To Release a Doll

Carolina Mata


1. Make doll with two cloths: one black, one white. One for each side.

a. Note* there is no back or front. No eyes. No smile.

2. Devil’s Dung—to demand it out. 

a. *The holiest of herbs. 

i. **Wear gloves when handling!!

3. One Rhodonite, heart shaped preferred—for love.

a. *Love for myself

i. **(And love for X—to heal it of whatever caused it to stay in the first place)

4. High John’s root—to command respect.

a. *Respect for the situation and for me. 

5. Urine or blood (or both)—to give my essence. X’s essence is attached to mine, body and soul, to get it out, I need to give up a piece of me.

a. *Just a smidge of blood from a scab should work.

i. **cotton ball rubbed with urine okay

6. No fillings. Put X into the doll and work it every night.

a. *Keep in salt with obsidian and carnelian until the dumping.

i. **Don’t work it more than a few weeks!!

These were my notes when making the doll I had to be rid of. Parked in front of a 99cent store, I opened a Tupperware container filled with the white salt and the doll. No bigger than my palm and haphazardly stitched with clumsy hands, the smell of the devil’s dung already penetrating it.

I hoped I’d never have to work with the herb again. It reeked of armpit and fertilizer and stuck to my clothes and hands days after I washed them. When I bought it, the cashier kept it in a glass mason jar, wrapped in two ziplock bags, and it still stunk from the backroom.

“Doing an exorcism?” he’d asked. 

“What?” I said. He pointed to the powder in the bag. 

“People don’t ask for this too often. The church—”

“Uses this,” I said. “Yeah, my mentor mentioned that. She said I could get it here.” When I gave him her name, a whistle came from somewhere behind the white beard, “Now that’s a powerful rootworker. She can take care of anything.”

“Actually, I’m doing this myself.” My voice was thin, brittle. And rounded cheeks went from joyful to tender, like he knew what I’d already endured during my life—losing time, a few hours, a few days, as X took control; outbursts that weren’t mine, crying, screaming, twitching, wounds on skin, fights at night, bloody noses and splattered eyes; believing I was crazy or possessed, still not knowing if I wasn’t. 

He looked like he knew what I’d done the last few years to weaken X’s control—hours in an empty room, sweating in meditation, fighting hard in the trance realm, forcing binds and shackles on her—no, it , it is not a her, it is it—just to prep the cutting out; months of cutting, burning in my lower back, spasms up the spine, X resisting; days of crying, not knowing any of this shit would even work. 

He looked like he knew how much more was still ahead. Like he wanted to hold me. “Whatever it is, I hope it works,” his voice was quiet. For a desperate moment, I wanted to be held.

“We’ve talked about this,” I told the doll. “It’s time for you to go.” Fingers trembled. I imagined her flying from my hand, making an escape. I pushed the thought away. I’d made dolls before. One for self-love as a teen that I lost, one to attract a crush that the rats in the kitchen got to, one to keep my gossiping coworker quiet—which was effective and buried in my yard. But I never made a doll for someone I’d never seen. 

I took St. Michael’s oil and a black cloth from my purse. With a prayer, I said goodbye to X. I performed the final ritual, instructions replaying in my head: Wrap the doll in black cloth. Place between two mirrors. Put all in little box. Pour salt into box. Twin box closed. Tape it for good measure. 

And, X was finally inside. After months of working the doll with oils and prayers and candles and sleeping with a black wand inside me, all to cut X out of my body, all to place it into the doll, it was finally in the box. I felt a pang of pain in her lower back. X was still resisting. That was fine. It was time for the river.

I drove to the spot I’d picked weeks before. Still dark but not late. Fuck. I parked on the side of the road. The bridge ahead. Cars drove past—laborers going home. Too many cars. If I wanted privacy, I wasn’t going to get it. 

“I should have thought of this before,” I said. Not to anyone in particular, or maybe to X. I tried not to talk to X as much as I could though. No engaging, no acknowledging its existence. This is what my mentor advised. 

But it was hard. She had been—no. No. Not she. I reminded myself. X wasn’t a she anymore. X was an it. And the name I’d once given it was no longer used. I couldn’t think of that name anymore. To name her was to acknowledge her. To acknowledge her was to invite her back in. 

I mean, it

Eyes on the bridge. I kept my eyes on the bridge. I would not look at the box. It was hard. I imagined: doll crying, wrapped up in the passenger seat, begging me—think of good times. Good things were done.“No!” I yelled. I thrashed my head. Dramatically. Over dramatic. Eyes closed. Grit teeth. I could throw the thoughts out. Throw the thoughts out. Face hurt, but fuck it, this helped. 

“You can’t manipulate me out of this,” I said. Headlights filled the bridge. No privacy. “You can’t beg. You can’t cry. You can’t scream. You can’t intimidate,” a sudden softening in my body, warmth. Caresses from a wind, an invisible wind, in a windless car—“You can’t sweet talk and persuade,” the image of me as a kid, in my room, drawing with pastel chalk, X deep in my belly, it kept loneliness at bay. A memory. “And you can’t give me memories. This is my mind.”

My mind. My body. My spirit. “And I claim them for myself.” 

This was the mantra. For months, soaking in baths: St. Michael oil and Florida water, white salt and carnelians. 

Cars passed. A concrete bridge—metal poles sticking out, like a fence. Tiny river, I couldn’t remember the name, below it—thin and shallow from years of drought, cutting down from low mountains to dry fields. According to GPS: this was the widest part. Still flowing somewhat. 

A car could stop at any time, I realized. Someone knocking on the window asking if I needed help. A creep seeing a not attractive woman by herself and figuring she wouldn’t say anything because ugliness made her shy and silent in life. A cop. A white cop with a quota. I turned my ignition. I had to find another spot to dump it.

No place was right. No other bridges, not any close by anyway. I could drive, according to GPS: 24 minutes, to the next one. 24 minutes into darkness I didn’t know. 

A house close to the side of the river. Someone could come out to question my presence on their property. Someone could come with a gun. Too many fucking hunters in the sticks.

I stopped. Made a U-turn down the road. Drove back to the house. Contemplated. Considered. Investigated. No car in the driveway. No lights. Could do it fast. Could get caught as they came home. 

Drove more. The river looked shallow from the road. Not moving. I needed moving water, my mentor said. 

Drove on. Side of the road got kinda close. Not close enough. I’d have to really throw it to get it over the bank. Chicken fence would’ve kept me too far out. 

Drove. No river. All dirt. All tall dry grass. Car too far from the blue on the GPS. 

U-turn back. Imagined myself slipping on the mud trying to reach over the chicken fence. 

U-turn back to the house. Still no lights. Still no car. Still could get caught. 

“Willow tree,” I said. River or a willow tree. That’s what my mentor said.

“Why?” I asked her. 

“Water,” she said. “It’ll wash it away. Willows are protected by similar water spirits. The willow will also take it away.”

“Willow or river. Wash it away.”

“And don’t look back,” she sipped her coffee. 

“And don’t look back,” I repeated. 

“And give an offering,” she reminded. “I’d use cigars, semi-cheap. All spirits take cigars” 

“Offering, thanks, river, or willow. Don’t look back,” I took notes on my phone. “Now, where the hell do I find a river or willows in this city?” I asked. She shook her head.

“That’s for you to figure out.”

Where the fuck did my mentor find willows for her spells? I drove for three hours. I swirled over roads I didn’t know existed so far away from the city. I’d never known my hometown to have these hidden pockets deep in country trees and dirt hills. I didn’t know where I was going but I drove, twitching up the spine, lungs stung bad, the dark around the car felt too fucking dark. As if the night was closing in on it and then my body, and then my face, and then my mind, leaving only my eyes untouched, so far.

I parked on the side of the road. “I’m never going to find a place,” I said. I imagined going home, coming back another day. “No.” This is what months of meditation were for, going deep within my belly to visit X’s home. A dark, tall castle it’d created for itself. Pretty damn proud of itself for the huge fortress it made. Pretty easy to do when X was dealing with the defense system of a fetus when it attached, but I wasn’t going to get angry. I banged the door for weeks. Got nowhere. That shit was built up over my lifespan. Finally, my mentor said, “Get an obsidian wand.”

“To meditate with?” I asked. 

“To stick inside,” she said, motioning to my crotch. 

“Stick—? What?” 

“This castle is in the root, right?” 

“Right,” I said. 

“Entrance to the root is the vagina. You want to break the door down or not?” 

“Of the castle?” I asked, “Well, yeah. Kick the door down, storm the castle, kick X out.”

“Then use a battering ram.” She smiled.

“I did not sleep with that damn thing inside every night just to turn back now.” I checked the GPS: the river widened 30 minutes up a hill. A place I’ve never heard of before. Some kind of wedding venue. They could have gates, I figured. Security. Logical. I could go back to the bridge. It was later. Traffic had to have thinned out. But a venue. On hill top. What better place to say goodbye?

I was right. Venue = gated. It was so far up, I was sure the river was out of reach. I parked at the entrance and cried into the steering wheel. I just wanted this to go well. I wanted it to be special. To do things right. Like a good rootworker. Like my mentor. I’d bet she never fucked up like this. Crying mess in a hot car even though the heater wasn’t on. Circling every dangerous road that scared me about the countryside. Failing to follow my instincts. There was a sudden prickle on my neck. Then, it hit me.

 “It’s you,” I looked at the box. Talking to the doll. Not caring if I broke all the rules. “The worry of getting caught, of a cop at the bridge, of wanting just the right place when every place was good enough. You, you’ve, you’ve been…” I fumbled. I fumed. The audacity. The sickness. After all my work.

“Fucking with my head,” a whisper, “you little bitch.” And I felt the spirit in the doll, the spirit of X, smirk. Smug. Defiant. “You’re leaving. Now.” I drove onto the main road.

The drive back to the bridge was a blur of me yelling. Getting out all I’d kept in for years. All I wasn’t allowed to get out. 

“You know, I tried to be nice. I tried to be grateful for you keeping me company when bullies got to me or when that asshole in 9th said I was too ugly to fuck and you punched him in the face and kept me from crying at night,” there was a grip around my ribs, clenching tight, 

“I’ve said thank you. And good job. I tried to love you out, I did. Because I felt sorry for you. Because I wanted this to be easy. For both of us. Because I want to respect all spirits,” my vision blurred and I imagined the car flying. Diving off the unfenced hills. Like the stories my mom used to tell of people that die late at night on these roads. I gasped. Grit my teeth. Flicked my head. Throw the thoughts out.

“But you don’t want to be loved. Or respected. You don’t care that I don’t need you,” I said, “I’ve grown. I’m stronger. I’m strong. I can take care of myself now. Which,” pain in my hands, the urge to throw the wheel, “which any mother, or sister, or teacher, or whatever would be proud of, by the way.” I wiped my eyes. They burned. “You just want to be in control.”

I felt suffocated in the metal. The dark was eternal, empty, in the sticks. Only my headlights kept some semblance of earth in sight. I imagined X would speak—either in my head or alive enough for it to fill up the white car. Finally allowing me to hear the voice it must’ve had when alive. When X spoke to me during my life, it never used its own voice—mimicking mine instead. Making me think my internal dialogue was truly mine. And why would I think otherwise back then? But it wasn’t. And in the face of our last night together, after being born with it hitching a ride to me, voiding death in its own way, taking over my body throughout my life, and resisting this whole ritual, X still didn’t reveal anything real to me.

“But that’s okay,” I said. “I don’t need to know your real voice. Your face. Your real name. Where you were born or when you died or whatever the hell happened to make you think it was okay to use me as your second-chance-at-life puppet. Just because you think it’s so unfair to die.” Pain. Sharp. In my back. Digging, deep, twisting. Like fingernails pinching into the tissue. “I don’t need to know anything about you. Except,” Silence. Stillness. Smooth road, winding. No pain. I remembered a session with my mentor. To contact X:

We sat in white, fluffy chairs. Hibiscus tea. Gold Christmas lights on the window, year-round. Copal and dragon’s blood swirled her dark head. Eyes closed to focus on our combined energies. “What do you want to tell it?” she said.

“Tell it, I’m sorry it has to go,” I said. 

“You can do that yourself.” Firm.

“I think it’ll listen more to you.”

“Why me?” she asked. 

“You’re the psychic. The professional.” 

“This is your job—”

“She doesn’t respect me—” A whine. 

It.” Blunt. Impatient.

It doesn’t respect me!” A yell. Silence. Frustration for words. “It hates me. And thinks I’m incompetent. And weak. And,” I stopped. My mentor moved quick. Just the head. Eyes on the space beside me. “What?” I asked. 

“She just said, she loves you.” Soft. Quiet. Surprised. 

“She did?” Surprised. I looked but saw nothing. Not what my mentor could see. Guilt hit me. Shame. How could I reject something that loved me?

“Yes,” she said, “‘I love her.’ It said it so, sweetly.” Soft. Quiet. Suspicious. 

“Maybe this is a good thing?” I asked, “It won’t put up a fight? I just hurt its feelings?” 

“When are you doing it?” Her voice was stone. Distant. 

“The release? This weekend,” I said. 

“Good,” she stared at what I assumed was X, in that place where only psychics go. Aware of everything I wasn’t. “Get rid of it.”

“You,” I parked at the bridge. It felt so long ago since my first arrival of the night. No pain. No images. Night eased into moon. Even the car felt bigger inside. I listened to the wind hitting my window. “You don’t really love me.”

At first I was scared. It was dark. Freezing. I felt small. Naked. It felt forever to walk from my car on the side of the road, into the road, to the middle of the road, to up against the concrete wall. Then I realized, I never cut the cigars open. I hadn’t rehearsed what to say. So many notes in my phone, and I didn’t think to write my prayer for the grand finale. I pulled the cigars apart as I walked. I felt as if a car could pass at any moment and take me with it. Hanging on and bleeding and not finishing the ritual. 

The concrete was hip high. I looked over. Wind in my ears. The river was shallow. Not rushing the way I imagined. Still flowing. Not fast. Would the box float? Or get stuck on a rock somewhere? Not my problem. The world felt so far away. I crunched tobacco in my palms. Fingers cold. I was so unaware of what I said to the river. To its spirits. It was quick. It was rushed. It was shaky. It was inexperienced. But it was please and thank you. I threw the tobacco over the concrete. Hoped it wouldn’t come back in my face. The cruel prank of the wind. A blunt rejection of the river. 

I threw the box, doll, and X. I didn’t look to see where it landed. A car rushed past, and I felt the heat of engine and metal. I did not look back and I sprinted to my car. I breathed. Turned the ignition. I drove home.

Later when my mentor asked what it felt like, I said:

As I drove, I cried. I laughed. I played sad songs and happy songs and angry songs and happy songs again. Songs I hadn’t played in years. I stopped and bought beer even though I don’t drink beer. I bought two bags of Little Debbie mini donuts, the family packs, and gummy worms, soda, and chips. I ate them all that night. And all at once: 

I felt so empty. So alone. The loneliest I’ve ever been. Never been that alone. I felt anxious. I felt thrilled. I felt shaking. And trembling. And nauseous. And pained. I felt fragile. So fucking fragile. Like I’d break if I moved too fast. Like my head would explode and my spine would shatter. I felt hope. Resilient. Relieved—

Ready to begin. Not knowing what to begin. Terrified of not knowing. Not caring. Faith that I’ll be okay. More myself than I’ve ever been! Not knowing who this self is. But knowing she’s mine. As far away as she is. She’s me. I am me. I am there. There is no one else in me but me and I claim me. And I, 

felt, new.


Carolina Mata is a Fresno born, Cathedral City raised queer Mexican-American writer, bruja, and third year MFA candidate for Fiction at CSU, Fresno. She is Senior Editor of Fiction for The Normal School, Vice President of The San Joaquin Literary Association, and has been published in The San Joaquin Review, The Painted Cave, and Wild Blue Zine.