By Mark Figueroa
For years, the house on the edge of town has sat vacant. If you pass by it at night or early in the morning, you can hear the wind weep through its dilapidated, crumbling frame. Many years ago, the home belonged to a talented dollmaker. He lived with wife, children and his mother. As an artisan, the dollmaker would only use the finest materials to craft his creations, ensuring that each had that special touch that made it just lifelike enough without crossing the chasm of the uncanny valley. His skill and expertise eventually brought him wealth and notoriety. Despite the great benefits his success brought to his household, tensions were high between his mother and his wife. The dollmaker’s mother was a tasteless woman. She would remind her son that his life was a gift resulting from her sacrifice. As such, his successes were hers as well. 15% of his successes to be exact.
Naturally, his wife objected to this, but she loved her husband. What’s more, she had lost her own parents to consumption and tuberculosis and feared depriving her children of the chance to know their one living grandparent. The years passed and the dollmaker’s mother grew more comfortable with her son’s success. 15% eventually became 20, 25, 30%… all the way up to half of his profits. In his eyes, he saw his mother as he always did: an honorable aristocrat to whom much was owed. Thus, the dollmaker’s wife’s complaints would fall on deaf ears. This continued until the children were in early adulthood. Then one day the dollmaker’s mother suddenly disappeared.
Neighborhood and police searches revealed nothing, despite turning over every stone. The dollmaker’s sorrow manifested itself in his work. His newer creations grew more and more lifelike. Clients were put off by the sinister gleam in their dolls eyes. Little by little commissions stopped coming in and the money grew thin. To make matters worse, a mysterious illness overtook the dollmaker’s wife. She would wander the house late at night speaking to herself and a “little man” which she dubbed Caleb. The dollmaker would insist there was no little man and suggested that fear of being destitute was eating her up. The truth was much worse.
The dollmaker’s wife had gotten rid of the hungriest mouth in their home: the dollmaker’s mother. Guilt never ate her up. Instead, it was the desire to take life and all the methods by which she could do it that consumed her. First, she killed the family dog, then, the neighbors’ cats. Finally, the dollmaker and his children died of unknown causes. His wife used the insurance payout to sustain herself as she rambled on to “The Little Man” and “The Little Ones” who would keep her company. Eventually, she set herself and the home ablaze, or so the legend says. That was over 100 years ago. Since then every attempt at knocking down the house has been thwarted by misfortune: a construction crew drowned themselves in their own cement; a realtor who had wandered the house with hopes of listing it cut out his tongue; a business mogul went mad and killed his partners in the living room. Each macabre incident accompanied by the same words: “The Little Ones”.
Now, the house just sits, covered in vines and radiating an inviting darkness that beckons all who would listen to its whisper in the still breeze. We used to tell stories about it when I was young, pontificating on the tragedies of yesteryear and the unsettling, never-ending nightmare trapped within its walls. It wasn’t until a few years ago, that I made the grave mistake of entering the dollmaker’s house. Going through my own dark times, the darkness beckoned me, wrapping my aching heart around its nefarious finger and promising to quelle the emptiness within. I entered the home, becoming entranced by the beauty of the ornate architecture inside, despite the state of decay and abandonment. Like clockwork, I would visit the home every day on my way to work and again on my way home. I could not account for my goings on within the house as time seemed to stand still and the memory would roll past me like the morning mist or evening fog, but I can say with certainty that my visits would be brief and invigorating. It would be like being reborn into my life and feeling infinite possibility. This continued for sometime until I gained lucidity during my visits and saw them, The Little Ones, with my own eyes.
The Little Ones were beautifully grotesque porcelain dolls with black eyes and ear-to-ear grins. Their clothes were well-made and well-kept, but their happy faces were filled with a terror and sorrow so deep that I could scarcely pull myself away from them.
I kept them company though they were never present. At least not at first.
Then, I fed them, though they would never eat. At least not at first.
Then, I listened, though they never spoke. At least not at first.
They told me of their lives. Their loved ones. Their desires, hopes and dreams. They expressed their grief. They lamented the all-consuming loneliness that had been lifted by my arrival. Professing me their savior, which I’ll admit made me feel wanted again, ensured that I would forever remain their wayward visitor. I loved them and still do.
I brought my husband to the house, but he didn’t understand, so the Little Ones took him to Caleb.
I brought my children to see their father, but they didn’t understand, so the Little Ones embraced them.
I now understand the dollmaker’s wife. She sits by the window, playing her lovely piano while I dance with the dolls, made flesh by my love. They eat of my flesh and become me. Through me, they wander around the town, inviting anyone who would follow into the darkness as I once did. If they are a child, I sing to them by the altar in the basement and The Little Ones guide them into their abode. A place beyond the darkness. If they are a man, the women who crave love allow him to have his way with me. With us. Then, they beckon him too to the place beyond the darkness. If they are a woman, through me The Little Ones serenade them with a song that makes time crawl and memory fog. They take turns invigorating the body and preparing it to feel the love of the darkness. The Call of Caleb.