Clack, clack, clack echoed against the narrow, white walls, growing louder. Jangling keys dropped on tiles adding to the symphony of chaos that caused the hairs on the back of Gene’s neck to stand at attention. The cold didn’t help. It crawled along his skin like lice, biting at flesh both covered and bare.
Tilting his head he heard whispers and quickly rose from the metal chair next to the metal bed that protruded from the white wall. The door stung his ear as he pressed it tightly, yearning to make out the voices and who they belonged to. Words were keys here and if you knew the right ones you could be given rewards, privileges, and for a lucky few, freedom.
He slid his ear along the door to the covered slit where trays and meds were often pushed through. The metal barrier there was thinner and he strained against impossible quiet. Whispers became words as the footsteps grew close.
“Mrs. Anderson, you brought him here and we feel you’ve made the right decision.” The male voice was familiar and the crawling lice squirmed drawing up goose bumps. “We are a specialized facility, the only one to do this kind of work, and getting someone in here at such short notice is highly unusual.”
The woman’s words were cut off. “Yes, your brother is one of our most respected employees, so strings were pulled. But, your request to watch the treatment isn’t part of the usual program. An exception has been made, but you’ll need to follow our instructions to the letter. It’s for your own safety.”
The woman’s voice was also familiar and Gene wasn’t so far gone that he didn’t recognize his wife immediately. Normally, the woman was so quiet and meek you could scarcely hear her, but her voice carried through the hall, through the metal, into his ear and through his brain as he processed what it might mean that she’d come to see him finally.
Gene jumped back as though the door held an electric current when the small slit in the door moved to reveal two faces on the other side. The man, Dr. Warden, scrutinized him with those black eyes that seemed to know only judgment and disdain. He moved slightly and Mary Anderson stepped forward, her pale skin a canvass to the dark circles beneath her bloodshot eyes. Gene’s heart raced at the sight of her. The scent of vanilla wafted in and he leaned into its embrace.
“Mary,” Gene whispered. The name was a prayer on his lips, longing for forgiveness, understanding, the ability to go back in time.
“Do you know why you’re here, Gene?” she asked, leaning in close enough he could see she wore cheap mascara that had clumped and matted in one area of her right eye. Her tears couldn’t wash it free.
Of a sudden he really needed to pee. The toilet protruded from the wall, much like the bed, but there was no privacy and he fought the urge to ask her to look away while he relieved himself. She’d finally come and fear filled him at the thought of losing sight of her.
“I’ve done something wrong? Something bad?” Gene searched her eyes as he searched his memory and the answer was there, but he couldn’t quite reach it. “The medication makes it hard to remember.”
“You need to remember,” she said, her eyes looking beyond him to the room, then quickly landing back on his face. “It’s important.”
The cold blew gently across tears he hadn’t realized he’d shed and he wiped at them. The medication swam in his blood stream, layering a haze of confusion within his brain. Each layer grew increasingly thicker and harder to penetrate. He pushed at the walls of memory, but it only seemed to increase the intense need to pee.
A flash of scarlet teased his brain and his memory supplied the sound of a child’s laughter. But, the next layer was shadows and darkness. Deep within the darkness was a figure and he moved his mind toward it as he clamped down to keep the first trickles of warm, yellow fluid from leaking onto his pants. The figure was small. Too small to be a person, but it had arms and legs.
“The doll?” Gene withdrew from the darkness and looked into his wife red-rimmed, pale blue eyes. “Dolls?”
A tear spilled when she nodded. “Gene, you have an unnatural fear of dolls. You have your entire life. Do you remember?”
He grabbed himself, pinching to keep the urine from flowing freely. “I hate dolls.” For a moment he hoped those were the words that formed the key that would give him his reward, or his freedom. Instead of a reward his mind snapped back to the dark figure, the dark layer of his brain where arms and legs stretched out at impossible angles. “Beth.” That name unlocked another layer in his mind and the laughter was his sister and he chased her through the darkness, children playing a game.
“And what happened to Beth, Mr. Anderson?” The cold black eyes filled the small slit in the door and Mary faded into the background. “What happened to your sister?”
The childish laughter in his head turned to screams and urine leaked out through his fingers, slowly at first, then with the urgency of abandoned pride to a full bladder.
“Beth died.” Gene let go of himself, wiping wetness on the side of his pants. He stepped closer, hoping he’d hide his shame behind the door while leaning into the smell of vanilla and freedom close to the opening that lead out into the hallway. “Her dolls started talking to me.” Gene brought his hand to his face, lightly caressing an age-old scar at his temple. The scent of urine drew his hand down immediately and he pulled in as much of the vanilla as he could before the ammonia smell pushed it all out. “Am I here because I accidentally killed my sister?”
“You’re here, Mr. Anderson,” the doctor’s voice boomed, commanding his full attention. “because of the dolls.”
“I hate dolls.” Gene looked at the figure in the darkness again and thought of his dead sister. “Mom and Father put her dolls away. But, they were all I had left of her.” He kicked at the ground like a child, his foot sliding through the now-cold urine puddle. “And they still talked.”
“But, the dolls stopped talking for a time?” The doctor leaned aside when Mary moved forward.
One black eye and one pale blue, half of each face stared at him as he moved away from the figure in his mind, in the dark, and looked to another layer of memory. Fear creeped up his spine, cold sticky urine clung to his legs where his pants touched skin. “After the fire killed Mom and Father, the dolls burned up.”
“Did you still hear them talking?” The doctor asked. This wasn’t new questioning, but it was somehow different to answer in front of Mary. Mary knew things. You couldn’t lie to Mary.
“For a long time I didn’t hear them,” he recalled.
Mary’s voice was gentle as she spoke. “He was put into an institution until he was eighteen. Of course, I didn’t know that when we married. I didn’t know it until our daughter was born.”
“What changed?” The doctor asked.
“We had a daughter,” Gene answered the doctor, but his gaze couldn’t break from Mary’s. “People bought her dolls.”
Mary looked to the doctor, breaking their intense stare, leaving Gene bereft even though her eyes held equal measures of accusation and compassion. Her soft voice was different when she spoke and Gene thought he might still have some pee left in him.
“The first incident was when our daughter, Carol, was still an infant. Some of her dolls disappeared. A year later I found them in the attic, their arms tore off and their mouths cut out. Gene told me about his sister then and told me Carol’s dolls were talking to him.”
Gene ran his fingers through his hair, then immediately wished he hadn’t. A dull ache began to throb as he thought of Carol. How long had it been since he’d seen her? He pushed through the fog of medication and guilt trying to get back to that last memory.
The temperature dropped, cool air rushing through the small open space of the door. With it came a whisper from a voice he’d not yet heard.
“Dead. Dead. Dead.” A young girl’s voice repeated the familiar mantra.
Gene’s gasp pulled in the smell of vanilla, urine and smoke. Burnt plastic joined the aromatic dance, burning hair filtered through it to rise above all the other smells. His heart beat hard in his chest, but neither Mary nor the doctor reacted to it. Their eyes became increasingly shiny, watchful and judgmental. He forced his shoulders down and concentrated on his actions. Breathe in. Breathe out. Don’t blink so much. If they knew, he’d never be given a key. He’d never be let out.
“What is it?” Mary asked, caution edging out compassion.
“Dead. Dead. Dead.”
Gene rubbed at his chest where his heart attempted to burst out. “Did you bring a doll with you?” He shrank inwardly, knowing the answer. Knowing the answer was the reason he was in this place.
“The doctor said it would be part of your therapy. You need to see that dolls are harmless, Gene.” Mary looked down, her right arm moving around, then she brought up a doll.
Blue, round glass eyes stared at him. The left side of the doll was discolored, the yellow dress had degrees of brown feathering across the doll’s chest. Platinum blonde, plastic hair had melted together in clumps and the face, a kiss of scorch-brown, and a few plastic tears ran down the side, near the ear. The aroma floated into Gene’s room and he stepped back, the smell a ghost.
“Get that away from me.” His voice trembled. Mary’s presence no longer the hope he sought, but a dark, malevolent phantom bent on driving him insane. “You know I hate dolls.”
The doll disappeared to be replaced by Mary’s face. Her eyes were as blue and as blank as the doll’s had been. Her hair was blonde. Her dress was yellow. Gene blinked and Mary’s hair was red again with streaks of gray and her dress once again a navy blue. But, her perfume mingled with the burnt plastic and felt certain that, if she were allowed inside his room, he’d find her skin held that same mixture of perfume and smoke.
“Do you hate them so much?” she asked. “Would you hurt me for bringing one?” She waited, clearly wanting an answer. He remained silent. “What would you be willing to do to get rid of the dolls?” Her eyes shined.
“Dead. Dead. Dead.”
Gene shook his head, trying to clear it, trying to fling memories out. Covering his ears he stepped further away, into his room, away from Mary and her cursed doll. The whispering chant of the little doll penetrated his skull, nestling into his soul though he tried frantically to push at it. Heat crawled into his brain, feeding his headache, coloring the room red and angry.
“Leave!” He backed up until the back of his legs hit the cot and he dropped down onto the single bed. Immediately he realized him mistake. The doctor’s face filled the small opening in the door, his grin long and plastic.
“Mr. Anderson, we’re going to be moving you into the treatment room now. Your wife will be nearby. I’ll accompany you.” The man glanced behind him and Gene saw there we at least two, large men in white walking up to join the doctor.
Blood pounded, racing through his veins and arteries, hitting his heart until it ached. “I’m not going out there while she has that thing.” He looked for a weapon, but the place was barren, sterile.
Mary’s face replaced the doctor’s, but he could see the orderlies behind her. “I’m leaving, Gene. I’ll be close.”
“Take the doll with you.”
“It’s Carol’s doll, Gene. Of course I’ll take it with me.” She paused, her gaze pinning him like an insect to a board. Seconds ticked by before she shook her head and turned away.
Gene could only see the a side view of the doctor’s chin through the narrow slat. Beyond that the orderlies, and then a flash of Mary as she turned away, clack, clack, clacking down the long hall. The window slit slid into place, effectively leaving him along in his prison, of which he was grateful.
Looking down at himself he winced. The bed covers would have to be changed. He needed clean clothes. Before he could move, the door itself opened. The orderlies walked in.
Gene hadn’t any idea how long he’d been confined in this place. The medication made time irrelevant. Or, at least it made it incomprehensible. The orderlies walked on either side of him, towering over him, both taller and broader than he. They were the only people in the narrow hallway, but every few feet there was a door, and Gene heard movement beyond the door. Sometimes he heard whispers. Sometimes crying.
“Is this a prison or a hospital?” he asked. No one answered. It didn’t matter, he felt it was a prison. Perhaps one for the criminally insane. That would explain the doctors. And the need for a ‘treatment room’. “No one has told me my crime. What have I done?” No answer. “What kind of treatment am I going to get?” They turned the corner and the hallway was wider. Still, white and empty except for him and the mutes.
At the end was a white wall devoid of decoration. Before the wall was another hallway if you turned left. To the right, another white wall, also devoid of decoration. When Dr. Warden stepped around the corner and stopped in the center of the hall Gene felt the need to pee again. Something in the way the man looked at him, glassy, unforgiving eyes that never seemed to blink, spoke of retribution, not redemption. And certainly not of freedom.
“Mr. Anderson.” The doctor cleared his throat. “This therapy is quite unusual, which is why our clinic is so exclusive. Normally, therapy would begin without much explanation to you, but your wife is experiencing some doubts and trepidation, so I promised her I’d deliver a message to you.”
If he’d had any left, Gene was sure he’d have wet himself. His heart beat echoed down into his kidneys, which were stimulated already by his adrenal gland. The haze of the medication seemed to thin, and of a sudden he wished they’d given him more before this therapy session started. Mary was a wonderful wife. She understood his limitations and had married him despite his history. To have her so upset was unsettling, but to examine why was impossible. He just couldn’t get his mind to go there. Perhaps, if the session was successful, he’d remember why she was angry. If it were successful, she might forgive him.
“Mr. Anderson, are you paying attention?” Dr. Warden asked.
Gene was slow to nod.
“This is the message from your wife.”
For the first time Gene noticed the white paper in the doctor’s hand. He reached out to take it, but the doctor unfolded it and began to read.
“Gene, I know this is as horrible for you as it is for me. I forgive you. And I hope you will forgive me. I thought you didn’t want children because we’re older. You should have told me about the dolls before. If I had known, none of this would have happened. We will never have children again. Even if the therapy works, I can’t imagine children would be safe in any home we have. You can’t take back what you did. And now, neither can I. I still love you, Gene. But, I hope you suffer as I am suffering.”
The doctor folded the paper, stuffed it in his pocket and nodded to the orderlies as he walked down the left corridor. He stopped a few feet from them, took out a set of keys and opened a door that was so thick Gene wondered at its purpose. The doctor nodded once again and the orderlies walked him to the thick, vault-like door and he had to step over a raised area on the floor as they pushed him inside. The orderlies remained outside with the doctor. The door closed on him. No slit in the door to talk through. The inside of the door was metal. A brushed chrome steel wall, as it had no handle of any kind on the inside.
Gene stared at his reflection which was a hazy blur on the metal. The air was cool, but there was an odor to it that he recognized, but couldn’t name or place. The scent was more of a memory and none of his memories were clear these days.
He gathered the courage to look around. It was an antechamber the size of a walk-in closet. No furniture or decoration gave clues to what lay beyond the second, smaller door opposite the one he entered through. Here, there was a knob, also brushed chrome. Several minutes went by and the temperature seemed to drop several degrees. Gene pulled in a long breath and exhaled a puff of smoke. His teeth began to chatter. He wrapped his arms around himself, rubbing vigorously.
Another long exhale and he dropped his arms to his sides. Mary wanted this therapy, so he should want it. At least he argued that with himself as he reached for the door handle and gave it a turn. A rush of warm air greeted him, but the room ahead was very dark. He could make out silhouettes, but wasn’t sure of what lay beyond. His heart beat hard against his ribs. The warmth called to him.
“Screw it. Mary’s here. Doctors are here. It’s just therapy.” He stepped inside.
The bright light of the antechamber at his back, the complete darkness ahead, the need to pee a constant now, he took another step. He shushed the screaming in his mind.
“It’s got to be motion activated lighting.” He took another step.
A soft click brought him around and the lights came on. The antechamber door had closed. Gene rushed the three steps to the door, but once again, he was met with a door without a handle. His hand stung as he slapped the door again and again, pressing his body tight against it, refusing to look at what the lights revealed within.
“Dead. Dead. Dead.”
His tears were warmer than the room as they spilled over on his still-cold cheeks.
“What kind of therapy is this?” he whispered, then shut his eyes as he spun to face the room and screamed. “What kind of therapy is this!”
“Dead. Dead. Dead.” The whisper was close causing Gene’s eyes to pop open, staring blindly with fear.
Warmth spread at his crotch, a testament to his capacity to stay filled with fluids.
“I can’t do this.” The whisper trembled from his lips as he took in the scene before him.
The room was immense. To the left the wall was metal like the antechamber. There were square doors about the size of bread baskets lining the wall, shut and without handles. They ran to the far wall and were at least three feet apart. Directly in front of him was a plexiglass wall. There wasn’t enough space between the plexiglass wall and the metal one to squeeze through, so his eyes followed the wall to the right where it led him into a darkened portion of the room.
“Am I a rat then?” he called out into the room, certain someone was listening.
“This way,” a little girl whispered from the darkness. “Come play. Come play.”
He saw it. On the floor where the light and the dark met in a gray shadow. It was Carol’s doll. The one Mary had brought with her. His chest contracted with pain.
“No!” he screamed. “This is cruel. I’m not going to do it. What kind of therapy is this? I will not play along with this. Do you hear me?”
A few seconds passed before a hiss and a click brought his attention to the plexiglass wall. Disoriented for a moment, Gene tried to refocus his eyes, then realized the thick, clear plastic wall was moving. Sliding nearer, Gene back away from it, heart thrumming. Only the first third of what he could see of the wall moved, as though it were a large domino set on its side, coming away from the rest of the wall. It moved slowly, the hiss replaced by the smooth sliding sound as it crossed the floor.
His gaze moved between the wall coming at him, the wall across from him and the doll in the shadows. The idea of being pinned by the wall warred with the doll in the shadows and the darkness beyond. His shoulder hit the metal door as the wall continued to move. As his choices became clear his blood ran cold. Sweat burned as it dripped into his eyes. He moved, never taking his shoulder from the wall opposite the sliding plexiglass. The doll’s shiny eyes were frozen, forever looking forward, but he knew they saw. It waited for him at the edge of darkness.
Gene moved forward until he came to the edge where a sharp corner ended and the room expanded out into the dark room. The line was drawn here, dark and light. The wall continued moving as he skirted around the doll, heart beating wildly and stepped within. The sound behind him told him the walls had come together. There would be no going back.
Immediately, several lights clicked on illuminating the rest of the room. Gene gasped, a small shriek escaped him. Tears ran down his face, his lungs burning as he punished them with fast, shallow breaths. The room was clearly a maze. A maze of dolls.
It wasn’t a complex maze and he could see through the thick plexiglass, though it was blurred. A red dot high up on the wall at the far end of the room was obviously the exit sign. He just had to make it there. He wiped at his face, tears and snot smearing a stain on his sleeve.
“Dead. Dead. Dead.” A voice further down the makeshift corridor whispered.
“Come play with us.” The voice close enough that Gene jumped back, looking down at the doll on the floor at his feet. Had it moved? He thought it was possible.
“Leave me alone,” Gene cried, then slapped his mouth when the sound echoed loudly.
He looked again at the red light beyond. Freedom. Salvation. Escape. A headache road out on the adrenaline that filled him and made it hard to breathe. Survival forced him to take inventory of his condition. He concentrated on slowing his breaths and willed his heart to slow. He pulled in one long breath and let it out as slowly as he was able. He straightened, wiped at his face again and stopped the tears. Survival was about control. He’d survived Beth’s dolls. He’d survived Carol’s. The price had been high, but he’d survived. The dolls rarely hurt him. Oh, yes, there was the occasional scratch or bite, but normally he was an instrument. His torture wasn’t about what they did to him. It was about what they made him do. He was the only one in the room. Unless the little bastards had weapons, or were life-sized, he’d make it through this.
He scanned the room again, squinting at the blurred spots beyond the thick walls. Nothing looked life-sized. He took a step. Whispered snickers echoed in the room, the voices of children trapped in the dolls. Demon children who said evil things. Gene ignored them. Because sometimes, if you tried very hard, you could ignore them. For a while.
Buzz. Click. Buzz.
Gene snapped his attention to the sound high on the wall in the corner. Cameras. Looking around the room he saw six placed strategically around the room so as not to miss his progress. He flipped the bird to the one that had moved. Its red light stared back, unimpressed.
“I’m not crazy!” He realized immediately how crazy that sounded. He berated himself. Only crazy people screamed that they weren’t crazy, he was sure. He took another step.
“Shhhh…he’s coming.” Came the whisper from somewhere up ahead.
Glancing back and forth from the camera to the corridor lined with dolls, he had a thought. What if the therapy included piping in the creepy childlike voices? Would they do such a thing? He took a step.
Some dolls lined the floor on either side of the corridor. Some were up on pedestals. Hanging at the corner he’d be forced to take soon was a cocoon of dolls hanging by a rope. The netting allowed for limbs to protrude willy-nilly, arms reaching toward him, little hard, plastic fingers hoping to grasp or gouge. He took a step.
Doll eyes stared at him. Boy dolls. Girl dolls. Old dolls. New dolls. Dolls made of plastic. Dolls made of cloth. Dolls made of porcelain, which were the scariest of all. One such porcelain doll sat on a white pedestal, held in place by some stand beneath her dress. Her glass eyes were blue, with long, black, plastic eyelashes. She felt familiar. Had she been one of Carol’s? He pushed through his hazy memory into the darkness. No, not Beth’s, not Carol’s. This had been Mary’s. A doll handed down from mother to daughter over and over again. He’d insisted she put the doll in storage, away from the house, when they moved in together. He’d not thought much of it since. They’d argued over it. She loved the thing. But, he had a phobia. No dolls. He’d made her promise that before they married and for years she’d kept that promise. Until they had a daughter.
He took a step. The doll’s eyes followed him.
“Dead. Dead. Dead.” From the around the corner the whisper drifted to him. As his eyes cut to the corner pain bit at his ankle causing him to nearly fall as he started and stepped back.
A shriek, short and high pitched left his lips as he reached down to inspect his left ankle. Tiny drops of blood beaded at the shallow wound. It was no more than a papercut really, but deep enough to gather blood drops and long enough he knew it wasn’t a bite. He quickly surveyed the nearby dolls on the floor. Regardless of how they looked, at least one of them was not innocent. He saw a folded piece of paper near a doll that was trying very hard to appear as Howdy-Doody-meets-Chucky with its ruffled red hair, ugly face and cute cowboy outfit. Its smile too wide, its teeth too prominent, it sat lifeless, paper near its hand.
Gene grabbed the weapon and opened it. Mary’s note that she’d given Dr. Warden had been handwritten on a blank white sheet of paper. His suspicion, that the therapy was orchestrated by the doctor, felt validated as he started at the evidence.
“What kind of doctor are you?” Gene asked as he stood, crumpling the paper and throwing it at the ugly doll. Looking directly at the red light on the nearest camera he frowned. “What kind of therapy is this? Are you seeing this, Mary? Is this what you wanted? Do you really think this will cure me?”
The thin, long cut throbbed, but he ignored. He took a step. His hip was level with Mary’ doll. From the corner of his eye the thought he saw it move. Whipping his head around and stepping back he stumbled, knocking the doll and pedestal over.
The doll’s prone body rocked, face up, coming to rest next to the white pedestal. Its eyes, lashes down as though it slept, popped open. Gene screamed, pushing back, crawling like a crab until he hit a wall of smaller dolls on the floor. Throwing himself from those dolls, Gene screeched, pee dribbled and he pushed himself to his feet, heart racing.
“Stop! Stop this!” He hated that his voice cracked, but they’d pushed this too far. “I refuse treatment. Do you hear me? I refuse it. I have rights!”
He kicked Mary’s doll from him, sending it sliding into the wall at the end of the corridor. He cursed beneath his breath as he realized it put the thing directly in his path if he wanted out of the damn maze.
The room was so silent he breathed harder to ensure his hearing hadn’t somehow been impaired. Control. Survival. He breathed in deep, let it out slow. He took a step. No one was letting him out. They damn well heard him.
“This is illegal!” he shouted as he neared Mary’s porcelain doll. “I’m going to sue. This is abuse. It’s malpractice. You’re going to regret this!” He skirted around the doll, eyes locked on the evil thing. It didn’t move. When he turned to see what the blurry items were on the other side of the plexiglass he face planted into a partial wall. He checked his nose, but it hadn’t bled. Still, it hurt and he mentally started a list he’d be giving to his attorney. He stepped around the protrusion, which seemed to have no purpose save tricking him into hurting himself.
The new dolls were worse and he slowed down two steps in. They were custom dolls. Dressed up like demon-goth dolls, some of them holding knives, one with an ice pick, two that had sharp teeth exposed from drawn blood-red lips. Zombies, ghouls, demons, they all stood there; a gantlet of horror down a poorly lit corridor. Again he made a mental note for his attorney.
Gene pulled from within himself, anger so much better than fear. The dolls were obviously made to frighten him. But, these were not the demon dolls Beth played with, or the ones who’d haunted Carol’s dolls. These were sick, demented tools of therapy meant for some kind of scared straight intervention. Dr. Warden was an idiot if he thought this would change anything. Whatever type of hospital or clinic this was would be paying a high price for bad treatment. The list for the attorney grew by the minute.
Gene’s gaze snapped to a place on the floor. An ice pick had fallen, the handle hidden behind a white pedestal similar to the one Mary’s doll had sat on. On either side of the pedestal was lined smaller dolls. But, it was the larger doll on the pedestal that had held the knife. It was dressed like a goth teen, black hair in disarray, black leather clothing with buckles everywhere.
Gene took a step closer, squinting as he tried to read the dog tag on the doll’s black leather choker. The doll was too far away still. As he took another step a whoosh sound spun him around and he watched as the plexiglass protrusion he’d ran into slide across the floor, connect with the wall effectively sealing him in with the creepy, custom monster dolls.
His previous self-righteous bravado leaked out into the room, dissipating like a bad smell in the wind. Turning back to face the sinister dolls he heard a noise he couldn’t quite identify, but his eyes easily found the source of. The tip of the ice pick slowly slid along the floor, disappearing behind the white pedestal.
“Dead. Dead. Dead.”
A chorus of whispered giggles started from behind the pedestal, then grew in number as the sound moved in a wave down the corridor. Shuffling, then a scraping sound had Gene’s eyes bouncing like a pinball from one part of the corridor to the other, eyes growing wider to take in as much as possible all at once.
At once all sound stopped.
He could feel his heart hitting his chest, the beat echoing in his ears as they strained to take in any sound at all. Sweat dripped into his eyes and he wiped it as though it were fire, eyes bulging when he’d cleared them. Swallowing hard, he leaned forward, feet glued to the floor, and tried to peer around the white plaster pedestal. No matter how far he craned his neck, he couldn’t see the tip of the ice pick.
“It’s a trick.” He hoped. One of the cameras moved and he stared into it. “You think you’re clever? I bet you’re in there yucking it up. Getting a good laugh while I suffer through this. Well, I didn’t kill Beth. I know you think I did, but I didn’t. She tripped down those stairs.” He looked at the dolls, swiping at his forehead. He wondered if whoever was controlling the doll’s movements, likely the same person running the cameras, was some sadistic creep getting off on his misery. “I see what you did there.” He pointed at the cameras, mentally stabbing the person on the other side while trying to control his breathing. Control. Survival. Having all the dolls all move at once was a brilliant move. It was unnerving. But, now he knew the game. The dolls were remote controlled. It was the only answer for why every one of them had turned their heads to stare at him.
A flash of memory slapped him hard. Beth’s small body at the bottom of the stairs. Lifeless. A doll at the top of the stairs, sitting there as though she’d dropped it. But, Gene knew better. The doll had wanted her dead. Dead. Dead.
Beth’s death had been ruled an accident. Mother and father forbade him from talking about the dolls to the police. All the dolls were removed. He was home schooled, but they brought a tutor in. They didn’t spend much time with him after Beth died. No dolls were ever allowed in the house again.
Scurrying beyond the pedestal brought him back to the room. Gene looked ahead to the next turn of the maze. If it doubled back, it would take him to the red exit sign. He just had to get to the end of this corridor and one more, then this would be over. Looking down the length of the doll-lined hallway he really just wanted this to be over.
The sound of scurrying drew his attention to the farthest pedestal. Rustling, jostling of dolls had him hoping the place had rats. At first he thought he say two doll legs sticking out of a pile of cloth dolls near the far pedestal. The wriggled and kicked as though the doll had dove head-first into the pile and was trying to swim to the bottom. Gene blinked hard, shook his head, wiped his brow and looked again. It was gone.
“If I wasn’t losing my mind before…” He thought of Beth’s death. The doll at the top of the stairs, smiling down on her still body. It whispering to him when he picked it up. It had whispered to him the day before that. And the day before that. He frowned. “You’re not making this better!” he screamed at the camera. And he began to walk.
A low moaning, mewling filled the room causing his bladder to threaten a mass exodus of all stored fluids. Then he realized the sound was coming from him and stopped abruptly.
“Get a hold of yourself.”
His brain knocked on his memory’s door, the door opened and he heard a saying from his past. One he knew he’d said recently. As he moved slowly down the corridor he whispered it.
“Just because you heard it, doesn’t make it real. Just because you heard it, doesn’t make it real.” The mantra, always heard in his mother’s voice, helped keep him grounded. Sometimes he could will the voices away. Sometimes, nothing helped. Sometimes the dolls told him to shut his mother up. In evil ways. In the long run, they’d removed all dolls from the house and it had helped. He hoped it would help now.
The lights overhead flickered, causing him to stop. The mantra continued silently in his head as he contemplated the shuffling sounds further up, near where he’d seen the doll’s legs sticking out. One of the lights went out. A second one followed, casting shadows at the end of the corridor. Snickers behind and in front of him rode out on the whispers of children.
“Just because I heard it, doesn’t make it real.” His voice startled him as the mantra came through his lips into the room. He swallowed hard before continuing to walk. There were lights behind him and lights on the other side, once you made the turn. He was so close he wiped the sweat from his brow, set his shoulders square and moved a little faster.
The shadows cast everything in brown and gray. To the left somewhere were the shuffling sounds. To the right the dolls’ heads moved, following his progress. He tried to ignore them, but his mind kept focusing on his peripheral vision.
“Hello, Daddy,” a very real voice spoke and Gene jumped to the right, hands out in front of him as he turned to face a baby doll whose arms and legs moved with the rhythm of a wind-up toy newly wound up. It was half shaded in gray light, it’s eyes appearing black. “How are you today?” it asked. It continued to wriggle until it finally came to a complete stop, staring up like a dead girl whose neck was broken from a fall down the stairs.
Pain sliced through his calf bringing a scream and a jump in the opposite direction. He stepped too far, his foot landing on a hard plastic boy doll and he put his hands out to stop his fall to the floor. As the popping sound echoed in his ears, pain heating, searing, slashing through his wrist, he heard his mother’s voice in his head saying, “Falling can kill you, Gene. Look at what happened to Bethie.”
His head landed in a pile of soft, rag dolls, but the pain from his calf came again, this time just above the first wound. He let out a scream, sitting up quickly, pushing at the doll with the ice pick and screaming when the thing got up and ran at him.
Gene was on his feet, cradling his broken wrist, bulging eyes on the fast-approaching doll. As the thing ran it pumped its arms, ice pick moving up and down, up and down. It wore dark pants, it’s face painted into a wild grin full of sharp teeth. Gene turned and ran to the end of the corridor, making the corner he nearly tripped on a bump in the floor. Pitter patter of little feet followed and he looked down a new corridor hoping a weapon or some escape was near. The exit sign at the top of the door beckoned. Limping, casting a glance behind him, he picked up speed, ignoring the flashes of new dolls he passed by.
The whir of something mechanical filled his ears, then the familiar sound of sliding followed by a thud caused him to look back. He stopped. The plexiglass was in the floor this time and it had quickly risen up to black the path backward. Not that anyone in their right mind would choose to go back there. The little doll was pinned between the plexiglass and the ceiling, ice pick slashing back and forth in the air. He stared at it, but had no idea how much time passed.
“Dead. Dead. Dead. Daddy. Daddy. Daddy.”
He turned slowly, putting most of his weight on his left leg, still holding his right wrist and looked at the new set of dolls. His mind registered the smell of old smoke. Not cigarette smoke. Not cigars or even a camp fire. Burning plastic. Burning flesh. A memory slapped him again and he cried out in anguish as he recognized the dolls.
“Carol,” he cried, tears joining the sweat and saliva running down his chin. “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry, baby girl.”
Daughters got dolls. Dolls got demons in them. Demons whispered evil things. He’d tried to stop them. He really had. Mary was so angry when a doll disappeared. She knew. She acted like she was innocent, but deep down inside, she knew. He was sure of it.
He took a step forward. The red light of the exit sign was home base. Safe. Ollie Ollie oxen free! He moved slow, pain in his leg and wrist, nothing like the pain in his head as he remembered the flames. Melting plastic. Screams. The house in ashes. But, those damn dolls were dead. Most of them anyway. They’d taken Carol with them, but that wasn’t his fault. He was sad she’d died in the fire.
He ignored the pressure at his ankle. The little bite of pain. One by one each doll wrapped itself around his legs, but they weren’t heavy. He moved forward until he was close enough to reach for the door handle. As he grabbed it, the metal sliding window on the door opened. He looked close, hoping to see a familiar face. It was black on the other side, but something even darker moved, the tip of it entering the room.
He smelled it. Of course he knew what it was. He’d used it to burn the dolls. He heard the click, a whoosh and the saw the bright light of fire. The dolls bit hard, but he couldn’t feel it. He couldn’t scream. His lips had melted together.
Mary Anderson watched the monitors, listening to sound of fear and pain as her husband fought desperately to scream. The fire had encompassed him immediately and his body moved backward, moving from side to side, hitting the walls, setting dolls on fire. She watched until he dropped to the floor and the twitching stopped.
Dr. Warden hit a button and the monitors went blank. Mary looked at her reflection there for a moment before addressing the doctor.
“The animatronics were as good as you said they’d be.” She turned, looking up at him, calmly. “It was everything you promised.”
Dr. Warden nodded and took a seat next to her. “As I said, we’re a very unique facility. Our therapies are forward thinking and we’re committed to our patients.” He leaned in, looking at her face as though reading a book. Under his scrutiny she shifted, but held his gaze. He nodded again. “Today is as intense as our therapy gets. You’ll have some outpatient visits. Then we’ll send someone to check on you for a year or so. How do you feel?”
She sat back, shut her eyes for a moment and thought. “Grief is a funny animal, Dr. Warden.” She opened them and looked directly into his eyes. “It doesn’t bring her back. But, I do have a sense of closure. Of justice. I’ve been waiting for this day for weeks. All of our previous talks have been helpful, but this,” she glanced at the dark monitors. “This helped. It really helped.”
He stood and reached out a hand to help her up. “You can pack your things tonight. Your brother will come for you in the morning.”
She nodded, standing. Quietly she walked out with Dr. Warden, down the white hallway to her room. He opened the door for her. “Thank you again, Dr. Warden.” He nodded and shut the door behind her.
Her room was full of photos and nick knacks. She sat on her single bed and picked up the heavy metal framed photo of a smiling little girl, no more than three years old. Mary smiled and kissed the photo. She sat it down and looked at the two dolls that sat next to it. They’d retrieved her childhood doll from the room for her. She loved that doll when she was a child. The smaller one next to it was Carol’s favorite doll, the one Gene hated. The one she’d brought to show him.
Gene’s sickness had cost him his sister and then his daughter. A part of her felt sorry for him. Another part, a larger part, was pissed as hell. He’d hidden his sickness until if infected them all in one way or another.
“Dead. Dead. Dead.” The whisper filled the room and was followed by a child’s laughter.
Mary stared at the two dolls.
“Oh shut up!”
Sheila English is an author of Modern Gothic and Pop-Culture Fiction. Her short story compilation Adam Frankenstein won Suspense Magazine’s “Best Book of 2016” in the category of horror. Sheila is a producer/director with over 12 Telly Awards to her credit and has worked on projects with notable authors such as Christine Feehan, George R R Martin, RL Stine, and others. She lives on the Northern California coast in the Redwoods where she collects typewriters, dogs, Doctor Who paraphernalia, but no dolls.
Find out more at SheilaEnglish.com
@Sheila English 2018