Michael BagenWord Count: 10100 35 Huntington St.firstname.lastname@example.org New Brunswick, NJ 08901 Doll Parts By Michael Bagen What is seldom seen is most often enthralling to man. We fall in love the mysteries of forgotten and perhaps mythical civilizations, with the possibility of life on another world. As such, those who believe they have seen the future, witnessed extraterrestrials in flight, all believe themselves special, chosen. The belief is held that the value of a thing depends on its scarcity, that a thing seen and done by all mankind is naturally of less value, or at least of less importance, than the rare deed. This is falsehood. In Hemmingford Heights there stood the proof of this. That which is the most common of events, shared by all mankind, can still hold the greatest of power. The observer saw this from the very beginning, though even he could not frame the feelings with words. The winding gray paths set deep in the mountain-face, the cold, bleak winds that whipped around the bends; it all seemed to hearken to this forgotten house in the Colorado Rockies. It was not lifeless. It was more than that. Distill the essence of all that lives and breathes and invert it, build of this a perversion in the form of familiarity and give it the name of family. This was the house built by Thaddeus Hemmingford. Neil Barrett had come to the Heights searching for a girl. He was a fact hunter by trade, what a journalist became when the truth was elusive and deadlines were the only law. He lived for the hunt, for the hard facts, for figures, secrets, lies, forgeries, discoveries and disasters. In the past he had sought out tales of unsolved murders and demonic babies. Most journalists, he knew, had luck with assignments like this. They always turned out like a disappointing episode of the Twilight Zone, one where there really is a rational explanation for everything. And every one of them said the same thing: Some day I’m gonna hit on a real live supernatural event and then I’ll be rich. But for them, taking photos of pie plates and mutant children paid the bills. Neil didn’t have that kind of luck. He had the other kind. In the times between assignments he was a happy man, a clod reporter who measured out the days of his life in cups of coffee and thought no further ahead than his next deadline. Then the assignment came down: feature piece...abduction. He’d sunk into his chair at the thought of it. He hated the word ‘feature’ as prostitutes hate the word ‘syphilis’. This was because he got the stories the editors wanted, not the ones they assigned. When he’d done the ghost story piece he’d ended up knee-deep in decaying corpses. When he did the haunted house piece he was almost decapitated by a selfguiding serving tray. The UFO piece and the events surrounding it still gave him nightmares. But that was Neil’s curse; he was too good at his job. When those above him wanted a story about the supernatural, they knew he would be able to find it.
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/2 He just wished the supernatural would stop trying to kill him. But a story was a story and he was far behind on his rent. His search began with an unsolved mystery in the recent news. Neil liked those stories. They always ended up being nothing, or at least nothing supernatural. He clicked on the icon and there it was, the holy grail of trash reporting, just nine weeks old. MEGAN FORD, 19 MISSING SINCE STORM The story went that two months ago the city of Boulder, Colorado had undergone a massive and conspicuously sudden blizzard. This alone wasn’t remarkable, since it was known to snow like hell in Colorado. However, it doesn’t rain, snow, sleet and drop golf ball-sized hail in the middle of August. When the storm came up it was so sudden that some people were flash-frozen in their cars. Many died of exposure, which wasn’t surprising considering most of the state was in T-shirts and shorts. However, despite the chaotic, almost biblical nature of the blow, no body went unaccounted for. In a day the ice melted and the casualties were assessed. And in all that confusion, as the town of Boulder had itself a good time recovering from the rehearsal for Ragnarok, one barely adult girl named Megan Nicole Ford had disappeared. Neil kicked the tire of his SUV. It wouldn’t go any further up the mountains. He’d come up here searching for the girl. Now he would have to walk the rest of the way. The path was cold stone and it seemed like it was looking at him. It was charmed somehow, as if made to inspect potential travelers. Something in the gray mountainside wanted him to reach the house. This scared him. It struck him as odd how the girl could’ve made it up this far. According to his research, Megan Ford had muscular dystrophy in her legs. She couldn’t have hiked up here all on her own. But where a less astute researcher would have been discouraged by this observation, Neil labored on. The signs he’d gleaned in the story told a clear tale. According to an eyewitness account, she’d last been seen walking down the street in the middle of gale-force winds and freezing rain. The witness had claimed that she stopped at the corner, looked left, looked right, looked to the sky and vanished. Neil smiled then, remembering how he’d cursed his computer for bringing him into this debacle. He had to go because after the last two feature pieces he knew what his editors expected. It was a fresh abduction story where the victim might still be alive to interview. He’d hated himself for having those thoughts but they were the hardest truths of them all. If you got them out alive, got corroboration from a confirmed, living witness, you could make it big. Haunted houses were for tourists. He knew the abduction method from a previous story. It was a post-hypnotic suggestion carried within a natural event. It was said that you could tell a lot about the sender’s state of mind by the weather it brought in. Given what it’d done to Boulder, Neil hoped that it wasn’t true. But there were certain indicators if you knew where to look. It was a powerful manipulation, he knew. And it also had a limited range. And thus the house at the end of his path was identified.
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/3 Hemmingford house had been built around the turn of the century by a man named Thaddeus Hemmingford, a millionaire in a time when men were made by the power of rails and mines. To the best of Neil’s knowledge, Hemmingford’s money came from neither of these things. He hadn’t been able to find much on Hemmingford in the annals of wealthy tycoons. Instead he’d found about him elsewhere, in the circles of information that he used for his type of stories. Studies and first-hand accounts of occult phenomenon filled the back of his truck. He’d found the house through them, through the tales of storms and their power to draw forth those that were...desired by the sender. That led him to Thaddeus Hemmingford’s deserted home nestled in the Colorado Rockies. Now he was there, with the house just barely in sight. Even now he could detect the surreal about it. Something about it dominated, held everything around it in a stranglehold. When it was visible it was all that was visible. Your eyes slid not just onto it but into it. In its presence the thinning air passed unnoticed. Perhaps it was this that first forced Neil to stop. He was not used to the exertion and his lungs protested. Then he noticed that the wind had stopped. Neil glanced down the mountainside, confirming what he suspected. He was fairly high up the mountains. The wind should have been constant, especially under the stormy sky he saw overhead. But there was no wind. The path bent sharply ahead and was blocked off. Neil climbed over a deadfall put in place long before he was born and continued on. Beyond the granite heap laid a stretch of land that could only be described in a single clichéd but nonetheless accurate word: cursed. The light gray rocks that littered the path were gone, replaced by a furrowing host of small flowers. Each flower was of a reddish shade Neil recognized grimly as being that of dried blood. On each flower the four triangular petals shot out to the sides, then bent sharply upward. They looked like chalices, he thought, chalices waiting to be filled, perhaps by the rain, perhaps by something else. Whatever it was, they seemed desperate for it. Even without the wind they grabbed eagerly at the sky. Neil reached down and plucked one from the barren rock. As he snapped it off, the stem leaked a thin red liquid over his fingers. It was warm, livid, like it was part of the flower escaping. Neil ignored the fluid running across his knuckles and sniffed the flower. A wave of revulsion spilt over him as the smell entered his nostrils. The flower’s smell was unmistakable...but also impossible. Flesh, blood, sweat, semen, formaldehyde and other odors, ones that seemed to almost scream in his head, they were there lurking in a flower. Neil knew the smell of pain, of angry and rage and greed. He’d seen them painting the walls of a house that breathed on its own. But this was far worse. This wasn’t a structure, an artifice of man. This was nature torn down and forged anew by someone’s perversion. “The flower Murder,” he whispered. He took a notebook from his pocket and spread the humor over one of the pages, then threw the flower away. As he cast it down it turned to dust, as is if its existence was that completely tied to whatever lived in the ground.
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/4 Neil knelt down and surveyed the ground beneath the thick foliage. They were rooted into bare rock. He looked at the blood stain on his notebook and saw that it had disappeared. Neil took the pen from his pocket and recorded his thoughts. “There is nothing here in the Heights that I haven’t seen before. There is nothing here I cannot handle. If I pray, if I think and can hold my heart steadier than I hold this pen, perhaps I will survive.” Up ahead was the gateway of wrought iron. It lay in the center of the road, presenting the only way beyond the seven-foot wall that surrounded the house. The wind surged one last time and cut through him like a blade. After all, who was he? Just some tabloid reporter labored with a mysterious sob story. There were other stories, weren’t there? Why this one? Because this one isn’t a ghost story. There may be someone alive in this house, and no one but a tabloid reporter would come up here just to check. And so he checked, starting with the gate. It was the standard black iron that you found surrounding old houses. It was ancient. The level of rust in some areas made Neil wonder what was holding it together. Maybe it was, as his uncle would say “Spit and bailing wire.” Remembering the flower patch, he was inclined to credit something else with the maintenance. Atop the two great fence posts were a pair of statuettes. They were gray, like the stone of the path, but their eyes were black stones. As he neared, he could swear that he saw red appear within them. Each statue looked vaguely like a man, though only from the waist down. Above the waist they took on the appearance of strange beasts; the left a dog, the right a cat. Both bent forward at the waist, touching their animal claws to their human feet. Their heads drew back to face anyone entering the gate. Neil reached out and gently nudged the gate open, mustering his strength against the piercing gaze of the gatekeepers. At the touch of the living the hinges went wild, tearing the gate open so fast that he froze dead in his tracks. Neil looked at the gatekeepers for a moment, tempted to ask them a question or two. Something in their eyes told a story and he wondered what it would take to get it from them. “Would you have names, or are you just ‘The Gatekeepers’,” he asked them, only halfjokingly. “When you were given those black eyes, what was the first thing you saw?” He smiled. This route was known to him. Once he passed the gatekeepers he was in another world, the world of Hemmingford. He’d come because they’d taken something that wasn’t theirs and he wanted to have them for it. The inner grounds were different than those outside the gate. The rocky yet fertile ground was replaced by layered, heaped and scorched dirt. Nothing like life, good or evil, grew from the soil. It had been carved in jagged lines that reached down deep into the soil. What little plant life had existed was now represented by scorched and dry grass and dead, gnarled vines. Off in the distance a child’s outdoor swing set and slide
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/5 stood abandoned and rotting. It was as if a great storm had swept over the landscape and destroyed any sign of peace and serenity. Neil stayed the course. As he stepped up onto the porch, Neil half-expected the house to seize hold of him somehow and pull him in. Maybe the vines would do it, he thought, those tall green vines that are climbing up the wall. They’ll strangle me like they strangle a tree. They’ll bring me into the walls and then it’ll be all over. Neil shook himself. The scenery was getting to him. And then he noticed the most peculiar thing. Words, apparently scrawled in a child’s crayon, were written on the window to the right of the door. Neil looked closer and saw the clumsy telltale signs of a child’s penmanship. The lines were crooked and a few letters reversed, but the message was clear. It read: THERE ONCE WAS A PLACE WHERE EVIL MEN TREAD BUT SOMETHING BAD HAPPENED, NOW IT’S OWNED BY THE DEAD The message ended there, but somehow Neil knew there was more. Putting the verse tentatively his notebook, he reached for the doorknob and turned. By what could be considered a blessing or a curse, it opened. In defiance of his fear he stepped through. The inside of the house held no immediate horror, much to Neil’s relief. Given the condition of the property, its interior was surprisingly predictable. The once-carpeted floors were torn and ripped up, revealing gaping holes beneath the plywood. What carpeting remained was moldy and stained, like moss on an old log. The air was sterile save the odors of decay and rot that plagued the ancient. The walls were scratched, warped and peeling. Wallpaper hung from others, torn and incomplete, like open wounds on the body of the house. It was bad, but he’d been expecting this. There were worse things. “All right Neil, you’re here,” he said to himself, “Now what are you going to do?” He looked to the left of the enormous foyer. Through the doorway he saw the remains of an old fireplace, which he approached for closer inspection. In this room he noticed that the air was colder, though there was no indication as to why. All of the windows were boarded up from the outside. From the appearance of the room it had once functioned as the lounge for receiving guests. There was a large and utterly ancient sofa, an easy chair and an assortment of end tables, all of which looked like they’d been there for centuries. Over what remained of the mantle was a large oil painting framed in thick brass. One long diagonal slash stretched from one corner to the other, but he could still make out the picture. It was a little girl, no older than seven, sitting on a large, ornate throne. She was covered in blood. Dear God, what went on in this house? He was so repulsed by the image that he almost didn’t notice the red spots visible through the canvas. Half wanting to see what was behind it and half wanting to be rid of the dreadful picture, he tore the painting from the wall.
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/6 ITS CHILDREN ARE CHINA, THEIR MOTHER IS WOE ONCE YOU COME MEET THEM, YOU WON’T EVER GO Dear God, I would really like an answer to that question, if you don’t mind! The words were carved deep in the plaster, brick red mixed with white. Someone had used the sharp edge of a brick to write it. If there was a way to describe how this made Neil feel its name is lost to time. Terror is inadequate and pain fell short. But all Neil knew was this: Hemmingford Heights was a dead thing and it had spread. And for some unknown reason, it had seen fit to drag a nineteen-year-old girl into its coffin. In the distance there was a noise. It was muffled, like it was coming from inside the walls. Though it was distant and faint, it was unmistakable. Laughter. A child’s laughter. It was the sound of childhood’s glee playing out. “Hello?” His words echoed in the emptiness. Stricken by panic, he ran from the room. He felt seen, like something had noticed him here and had brought the glaring reality of his intrusion into focus. Neil turned to the door. It was no longer a door, though. The white wood flowed like liquid, rippling when he hammered his fist against it. Out of sheer desperation he grabbed hold of the knob and pulled. The portal held. “Let me out!” In response the flow drew outward, the door and the frame becoming one white mass. The door shuddered, creaked and then was gone. Wicked, cruel thoughts invaded his mind, not sadism but the cruel knowledge of his own fate. He was unwanted here. The house, however that was possible, had spoken. Neil hissed. He’d been here before. The veteran of occult journalism bit his lip, squinted his eyes, remembering all he’d already seen. It would be no worse than the past, no better than the future. This was his job. With a burst of sheer defiance Neil turned around and addressed the Hemmingford monster. Each torn piece of wallpaper was ragged flesh, every exposed lathe and stud a piece of jutting bone. It was a beast’s bowels, not a place of man’s devising. Every odor and sound was that of a terrible beast coming out of the darkness to grab him. “My name is Neil Barrett,” he announced, “Freelance reporter for the Colorado Star. I have come for the girl you have taken. I will have her returned to the world of the living or you will be exposed and destroyed like the monster you are.” Much to his delight the house did not respond. He knew this was perhaps the worst threat in the history of intimidation but it was better than silence. A place like this fed off of fear. Somewhere upstairs there was a noise. Slow, harmonious and light, like the chorus of angels. But there was only one angel in this place. There was a sadness in the voice like that of a child locked away by a cruel parent.
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/7 Greatly elated but ever cautious, Neil climbed the stairs up to the second floor. The steps creaked and shuddered under his weight and for a moment Neil thought that he would fall through. But the aged wood held. As he ran his hand along the banister he was jabbed in the palm by a large splinter of wood. Blood welled up as Neil pulled it out and a single drop fell upon the floor. A suspicion that would have never fit well into a rational world occurred to him and he watched carefully what happened to the blood. It sat on the wood for a second, much the way liquid did. But soon the droplet shrank into the floorboards, like it was being absorbed. In a matter of seconds it was completely gone, leaving not even a stain on the wood. “Like the way I taste, do you,” he muttered. At the top of the stairs was a hallway passing in three directions, left, right and ahead. All of the doors bore the diminished, warped mark of a portal that hadn’t been opened in years, perhaps centuries. A cursory count put the number of rooms at nearly forty. Neil grimaced. This wasn’t a haunted house. It was an undead motel. When he touched the cold knob of one door he confirmed earlier suspicions and allowed himself to relax. They were as far beyond locked as locked was beyond wide open. A cursor examination of the hall revealed that this was the state of most of the doors. And then he noticed the nails. The doors, it seemed, had been nailed shut. The heads, though rusted, poked out along the edges of the door. They were large nails, clearly meant to keep the doors shut against some sort of pressure. Neil looked at one of the doors and felt confident that there was at least one skeleton behind each of them. Whether or not it was still moving was another matter entirely. At the end of the central hall was a single door left unsealed. Though old, there were visible signs of maintenance and the potential for movement. The singing had stopped but he could surmise that whatever he’d heard was coming from behind this door. Scrawled across it was the same arcane writing in a child’s hand. It appeared to have been drawn with the same tool that was used on the front window. Neil now recognized it as crayon. The writing was waxy and rough and had clumps of ground wax around the edges. The bold blue color was faded but still, unnatural as it was, completely legible. I CAN BIND NO MORE THEIR VENGEFUL CALLS THEY RULE THE HOUSE FROM WITHIN THE WALLS Neil Barrett never wished harder for anything than to be illiterate at that moment. But as words such as these were his stock and trade they flowed seamlessly into this mind. Who were ‘they’? The girl in the painting. Neil had read that Hemmingford had a daughter named Rebecca. Of the little known of Thaddeus Hemmingford even less was known of his daughter. Apparently she had been born and raised in the house. Save a hospital bill made out for vaccinations, it was as if Rebecca Hemmingford had never existed. There wasn’t even a death certificate. But who had written this? The tensing spoke of an outsider, which lead him to one possible conclusion. It was Megan.
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/8 Neil returned to reality and opened the door. Age must have long ago destroyed the lock because it swung open without a sound. No clicks, no hinges squeaking, no nothing. “Christ, doesn’t anything around here make noise?” Suddenly he remembered the laugh and forced the question of sound from his mind, or at least tried. But as he gently pushed the door ajar, he again heard the soft, girlish laugh and the pitter-patter of tiny feet on the floor. There was a soft creak and then silence once more. Now even more terrified and confused, he stepped through. The room was a sight of unprecedented confusion. Unlike the forgotten world that encircled the house, it was reasonably well-maintained. In fact, save the scraps of cloth and paper strewn about, it was a perfectly livable little girl’s room. There were flower patterns on the wall, a rocking pony in the corner and an assortment of old wooden toys on the ground. Someone had been in this room recently. There were still burning embers in the fireplace and someone had hung a wallet-sized photograph on one of the bright yellow walls. Megan. But what had she been doing here? As best as he could see, the house’s only inhabitants had between six and eight legs apiece. This was not a human-friendly place, if it ever had been. He’d been in houses where the very presence of the spirit, whatever it was, made it difficult for a person to physically leave the property. But there was an air of resignation in the room, like the person living there had resigned herself to residence. He found himself slowly pacing toward the center of the room and the table that lay there. It was a small white piece of furniture, the type you would find in a little girl’s room Rebecca. Strewn across the surface were a variety of tools and materials. There were scissors, knives and chisels, paint and brushes and various other things that he could only guess the function of. Even stranger were the ‘materials’; strips of wallpaper, chunks of wood, carpeting and even ceramic tiles. The tiles, doubtlessly plundered from the kitchen, were what immediately caught Neil’s eye. They were white, the kind of white that only bleaching could accomplish. Some were separate but most, about 20 or 30 of the tiny pieces, had been painstakingly glued together into a fist-sized ball. On side remained rough while the other side had been worn down to a smooth, recognizable shape. Neil recognized it immediately as a— Doll Parts! --human head. Whoever had done this, Megan probably, had sculpted a doll’s head out of shards of ceramic tile. All at once it came together. The wood wasn’t wood, it was her bones. He didn’t know how he knew it was a female doll, but he was positive. The cloth and paper was for her gown and the carpet was woven together for a wig of ebony locks.
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/9 An ancient knife, worn down by time, jutted from the table. Next to it were the grimy tools used for shaping and molding ceramic. Months of use had left the tools as well as the surroundings awash with a thick coat of ivory dust. Before he could think, he inhaled deeply and pulled the dust into his nostrils, unleashing a sneeze that would have shaken the birds from their perches, if there had been any. However, while no birds were scattered by the torrent of sound, the dust covered the table was. Neil covered his mouth and nose with his sleeve and looked down at the writing. FOR THEY ARE THE SPIRIT OF RESTLESS HEARTS AND IN THEIR WAKE I AM SIMPLY— The final word proved impossible to interpret, as if even the thought of it had pained the scribe terribly. But Neil knew what it said. “For they are the children of restless hearts,” he recited, looking down at the deep eye sockets of the doll’s head. Empty, unholy voids encircled by a child’s cherubic face. Pain without joy. Death without release. “And in their wake I am but simple…” “DOLL PARTS,” a puny voice shouted, completing the rhyme. Neil shut his eyes. Had he been less terrified, he might’ve jumped. But his nerves were already gone, taken by the house’s mysteries. “Who are you,” he whispered. He couldn’t turn around. Every instinct in him fought the idea of it. His question was answered by a child’s laughter. “Rebecca? Are you Rebecca?” The laughing stopped. For an endless moment he was possessed by questions, both terrifying and unbelievable. The whos, the whats, wheres, whens and whys were taking him over. And echoing behind it all was that tiny, childish laugh. He fought the beast rising in his mind and found that it was strongest here. “Leave this place. She’s not for you.” “Who are you,” he hissed, his voice shaking with fear. Something twisted in him, a response to that creature. His nerves fell and he felt something inside him snap. When he turned there was nothing there. Only light and shadows, but no girl to match the voice he’d heard. But there was something, a faint impression in the dust in the shape of feet that told him the meanest, that he was not insane. “WHO ARE YOU?” Overcome with fear he barreled through the door, now more beast than man. Terror had unlocked a deep sensation of power, long since locked away by man’s rational mind. He stood in the hallway for a moment, his rational mind trying to reassert itself. Calm neared his being, cooling the primal fear within his guts. There was a little girl in the house, he told himself. A little girl that was far too little to be a real girl, but had been once and wasn’t now, but still here nonetheless. What she was
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/10 didn’t matter now because she needed parts. She needed to become something more and that was making her angry. She was falling apart. Neil’s vision focused on the doors, on those cold, sealed things that lined the upper hallways. Half-mad with terror and driven by pure frustration he threw himself at the nearest. It rebuffed his attempt. A sane man would have stopped there but he was not entirely sane then and continued, throwing himself at the door until the heavy nails gave way. When he fell, something in the motion, in the unsettling possibility that the nails had been meant to keep something in, helped to calm him. There on the floor he beheld something that forced him to draw his mind back into focus. Madness would not help him here. Even before he saw decay he could smell it. It was not blood or meat that hung on the air. It was the memory of it, the dust of that which once was alive. The ashes of a man still can hold the essence of a living thing. That was what he saw; the essence of man. There were mortars and pestles and dust strewn about. The dark stains on the wood floor marked where blood had fallen, feeding the house. The data, the force of events stamped into a place and demanding an assembly only logic could give drew Neil back to the world. The reporter’s eyes narrowed and he surveyed the room, checking off the data he saw. The evil little girl could wait. He needed to know what he was up against. The stains... Blood was drawn...no, drained. They’d drained them. He said ‘them’ because there’d been clearly more than one. A cutting board and knife, both so scarred and notched that they were beyond repair. Beside them lay a crank-driven meat grinder, its interior rusted with exposure to fluid. The flesh was rendered and fed to the house. The only thing that he couldn’t quantify was the dust. It was everywhere. Unlike the ceramic dust in the other room it was not white. It was closer to pale gray, the color of something that had been white once, but had been ground to— Neil paused and drew his eyes down on the mortar and pestle. They even ground the bones. Neil looked about the room, taking in the writings on the walls. These had been sacrificial chambers. People had been used here, rendered into base matter and imprisoned in the rooms. It was a reliquary of souls, but for what purpose he could not tell. A question occurred to him then. If this was some sort of sacrificial chamber, then why was it so harshly sealed? It would have had to have been after the work was done. He shook his head. No. That was wrong.
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/11 And then he saw the skeleton. It was a meager thing, wrapped in a rough robe and leaning against the far wall. It looked to him like it’d been kneeling once, before death and decay had robbed it of muscle and sinew. “They were our friends,” said the small voice, again behind him. He felt less and less inclined to turn around at the sound of the voice. “What are you,” he said softly. The voice giggled. “First you want to know who and now what I am? How presumptuous.” Neil closed his eyes. Something was odd about the speaker. It was the same voice, but somehow it was a different person, this one much older. “Are you Thaddeus Hemmingford?” He could almost feel the smirk. “Do I sound like a ‘Thaddeus’?” “No. To be honest you sound more like a Rebecca.” “Yes. That is correct.” She seemed to almost not believe her words. “I am Rebecca Hemmingford.” “And who is the other one, the little one?” “Rebecca Hemmingford.” Neil squinted at the wall because he couldn’t stare down what was behind him. He knew what would happen if he saw what held that voice and he feared it as men fear things worse than death. “You are both Hemmingford’s daughter? How is that—“ “That is not your concern, Neil Barrett. You are trespassing here.” “Yes. And I meant what I said before. I will expose you if you don’t release the girl.” There was a long silence as he knelt before the corpse of the dead man. He was afraid to speak before the ghost or demon or whatever it was that called itself Rebecca Hemmingford could answer. She was still there. He could hear her whispering. Too late did he realize what she was saying. A spiral of dust erupted from the skull before his head, whipping out and blinding him. A cold hand like a humid cloud reached up and grabbed hold of his throat. He twisted left and right, wrestling with the hand that appeared to be attached to nothing else. Through the haze of dust he saw a glimmer of glowing blackness, the sheen of black hair and dark, glowing eyes, small and close to the ground. The quick shuffling of tiny feet crept away, barely discernable over Neil’s labored breathing. Their quick rhythm and light tread betrayed the image of their maker. It was a doll. It wasn’t a child. It wasn’t a rat or a cat or even a dog. It was a doll. He couldn’t explain how, but it had to be. There was a doll in this house and it lived inside the walls. It lived inside the walls and it was alive! The last thing Neil Barrett saw before he met the dark was its curly hair...and its black eyes.
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/12 Neil dreamed. There was an old man with gray eyes standing at an altar. All around him were men in robes, each holding a dagger. The chanting was in a language that he couldn’t understand. With a gesture the chanting man dismissed the supplicants and Neil saw the girl on the throne. In her lap was the one element that had not been painted afterward; a small porcelain doll with black hair. The man took a decanter and muttered a few words under his breath. He poured its red liquid out onto the head of the girl, who looked up at this man, her father, with awe. She allowed the blood to run down over her eyes without even a hint of discomfort. She was like a doll then, a tool of her father’s will. And she wore the smile of a knowing participant...even as she saw the knife headed for her. Neil awoke from the nightmare to an unfamiliar room. His head ached. He squinted in the face of the bright light that pierced the gloom of his alien surroundings. He was still in the house. That much was certain. Neil doubted that any two houses could have so much disrepair in common. The room was large, at least twice the size of the lounge. Neil looked out the window and what he saw convinced him of where he was. That must be one strong doll, he thought. He was well over 150 pounds and this place had to be at least three stories high. How, or better yet, why did she put him in the attic? Once again his thrashing headache was given a power-up by the intense sunlight. Odd, he thought, I could have sworn that all the windows were boarded up. Instead, the room was saturated with bright, golden light. It played off the walls and the floor, the unkempt furnishings and even the soiled menagerie of flesh he had become. A dirty sofa-bed sat in one corner, its tattered cushions indented by recent use. Next to the bed, half-obscured under an ancient lace cover was a fine oak end-table. On it laid a small rectangular object that Neil recognized as some sort of diary. Carefully, minding his balance in his weakened state, Neil limped towards the table. Eagerly he snatched the book from its cradle. The book itself was very old. Furthermore, it was prior to its acquisition by its present owner, another book entirely. Large bold letters were superimposed on the much older text. Neil couldn’t understand the text themselves since they were in French. But the hand-writing was legible, albeit congested. Mindless of Megan Ford’s privacy, he began flipping through the pages. He scanned the more notable sections with grim revelation. One such passage particularly intrigued him. It read: September 6 (I think) Dear Diary, She came to me again today, the doll with the red eyes. She says that her name is Rebecca and this is her house. I don’t know if I believe her, but I know that she’ll kill me if I don’t help her. I know it.
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/13 Eager for a prequel, Neil turned to the earlier entries. One of them sent a chill up his spine. Date unknown Dear Diary, The little doll came to me again today. Her hair had fallen out again and one of her arms was broken. I stayed up all night making her a new arm and wig. I noticed when I was gluing the new hair on that the porcelain of her face was cracking. She might soon need a new head. I asked her what I should do. She didn’t answer. Instead she disappeared into that little hole in the wall to do whatever she does with her time. Later she came back with handfuls of ceramic tiles and superglue. Then she said something. I think I heard it, though I don’t think I was supposed to. She said “Doll Parts.” Then she left. I’m scared, diary. I’m so scared. Date unknown Dear Diary, I replaced the doll’s head today. She told me to make extra room for the eyes, that I had to use the old ones. I did this with a few tools she gave me. It was tricky, though. I had to put one eye in the new head before I touched the old one. If I disobeyed her, bad things would happen. She’s better now. I was sick this morning. Rebecca says I shouldn’t worry about it. It was all so clear to him now. He closed the book gently and carefully replaced it on its stand. She’s falling apart. The doll that somehow was inhabited by the spirit of Rebecca Hemmingford was falling apart. Maybe it had been a real doll at first, but years of being ridden by an angry ghost must have done a number on its delicate structure. Or maybe it was the force of emotion that permeated this place that caused the decay. Ghosts who are themselves victims of violence are often tied to the places where they died. One of many tidbits that years of writing tabloids had put before him. By the house she died and so by the house— “I shall be reborn.” The voice had returned. The booming of the final word shook the doors on their frames. Pictures, dangling before only by spider-silk strands of wire, fell to the ground and shattered. Doors and windows opened and closed; the former doing so mindless of their apparent disrepair, the latter doing so at speeds that shattered the fogged glass within. Then, it all stopped. Neil removed his hands from his ears, not quite recalling when he put them up in the first place. Only a single door, one of the ones he had thought sealed, remained open. Within, barely discernable even in the silence, there was a voice. It was singing. Its slow harmonies and mournful mood touched the long dormant loneliness of his being, and for a moment, filled it. As a man would in a trance, he let go of himself and followed the music.
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/14 First he saw the girl. The rest of the room followed soon after, but for all intents and purposes, the girl came to him first. She was small, no more than 5’4” he guessed. Her short brown hair was matted and caked with mud and worse things. She looked as if she hadn’t bathed or changed her clothes in months. Her arms and legs, now withered sticks wrapped in skin, showed through the jagged holes in her clothing. Weak light shone down from the ceiling, illuminating the pale, withered flesh that covered her, like a mummy wrapped in parchment to fine to show a seam. Megan Ford, frightened, dirty, hungry and alone. And at that moment when Neil Barrett first laid eyes on her, he could only think one thing. She’s beautiful. The beast that had taken root in this house had taken from the world a work of true beauty and broken it. Neil promised himself that if he ever found a way to destroy the monster that did this he would do it without a moment’s hesitation. For now he just looked at her. How her pale eyes scanned him, trying to make out if he was real or just a wistful dream. She stood, hobbling on legs barely thick enough to support her miniscule weight. Her eyes squinted as she reached out to him. Her hands were cut and scraped in many places. Where once gentle innocence and soft caresses had been there was only the prisoner twisted by the doll’s desire. She was no longer a person; she was a machine, a slave to the doll. With cautious strokes, she glided her hand across her cheek, shocked by the presence of warm flesh instead of cold air. Her reaction, by all means understandable, was to burst into tears. Mindlessly confused and weak beyond her power, she collapsed into his arms and cried. Her sobs wrung in and out like the tides for a time to great to be measured. Not that it mattered. Time was meaningless. He had found her. Let her cry some. She’s earned it. And that was what he did, he laid her head down in his lap and stroked her forehead and let the tears come. Finally, she stopped. He looked up at him, her eyes puffy and the dirt on her cheeks mixed with tears, making a smeared mask across her face. “Who are you,” she croaked, obviously still scared. “My name is Neil. Neil Barrett. I’m here to help you.” His words were flat and to the point. But Neil thought just enough sympathy had gotten through. Just enough. “Come to help me?” She was obviously still in shock. Neil nodded. “Me...and my baby,” she said, looking down at her pelvic region. Yes, even though the tattered remains of her dress he could see it. Her lower abdomen swelled slightly, in the way that invariably meant one thing: she was pregnant. Neil didn’t see how that was possible, but he couldn’t argue with his own two eyes. Megan Ford, who had spent almost a year alone in a house with a little girl’s ghost and a decaying body, was at least six months pregnant. “It’s a girl. I can tell.” She was smiling slightly.
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/15 Neil ignored the comment and got to his feet. Carefully, he helped Megan to hers, never letting go of her arm. He led her back through the maze of rooms that took him to her, back to the stairwell. It was then that he remembered the doll. He looked down the stairs, half-expecting to see the little brunette terror at the foot of the stairs. By the providence of God or just plain luck, it wasn’t. Miss Rebecca, you must be slipping, he thought. They made their way down the stairs, slowly, silently, to prevent suspicion or discovery. Neil led, followed by the weak and frightened Megan. The downstairs seemed damper somehow. The moist air was now visible, more humid, as the windows and mirrors began to collect droplet after droplet of condensation. Even the badly-carpeted stairs now felt spongy under his weight. It was as if the entire house had smelt fresh game and was salivating. Hemmingford Manor was indeed cursed, as Neil had expected. But he never really believed that until he reached the bottom of the stairs. And then he remembered the vanished door and cursed himself. At one end of the hall was a blank wall. At the other end was the doll, Rebecca; the master of Hemmingford’s ghosts. “You can’t have her,” she squealed, her black hair flying in phantom breeze. Through her voice came a tremor that shook the house. Megan, stood in an almost catatonic state, lost in the doll’s black eyes. “Megan. Megan!” He jostled her, trying to wake her from her daze. “Is there another way out of here?” No response. Urgently, he seized her by her arms and forced her to look into his eyes. The doll’s influence faded. “Wha...what did you,” she said, stupefied. “Is there another door?” He was screaming now, his panic having gotten the better of him. “Ki...ki...kitchen. In the kitchen.” Neil turned to where she pointed only to see the doll’s influence. Like he’d seen before, the back door transformed. Wood cracked and plaster fell. The wood closed in on itself, seizing and spreading and covering the frame like an open wound. When he looked at the doll he could have sworn that he’d seen a smile on its porcelain face. “What are you?” “Oh,” she said, “I am Rebecca. Do you want to know more, or did my daddy’s friend teach you to be good?” “That wasn’t what I asked,” he hissed. Megan was silent, lost in the eyes of the doll. “I’m not going to tell you. It’s a surprise.” “Kill us or let us go.” The doll laughed, an airy, chilling sound. When it stopped, the older voice returned. “Silly boy. Nothing can die in this house.” The doll approached, its small black shoes clicking on the floor. “It was my father’s finest work.”
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/16 Neil growled. It was just a doll, he told himself, and made for its delicate little body with murderous intent. The doll did not seem fazed and simply looked at Megan. Somehow he saw it, even in his rage. It was impossible, but the doll smiled. A floorboard caved in under Neil’s foot and he fell, sucked down to one knee. “You shouldn’t have done that,” said the doll. “You shouldn’t have tried to take her away from me. It wasn’t nice.” There, under the cold fire of the doll’s glare, it all came together for him. It was true what she’d said, that this place was where death was barred entry. That was what they did. Without death the spirits were not truly dead, only free of bodies. But they were ruled by one, the successor to Thaddeus Hemmingford, his little girl who’d been sacrificed on a throne of blood. Her body was remade and she ruled as the little girl, growing old even in death. Neil’s eyes locked in on the little doll. “You’re a lich, aren’t you?” The doll curtseyed. “Welcome to my home.” There are many things in the world, as Neil knew well, that defied all of the rules. There were ways to make the dead walk, not the zombies made of hypnotized or drugged humans. There were ways to call lightning and fire down form the clouds and into a chalice. There were ways to make the spirits speak. There were ways to make the mountains move. They were the things that the living could do, calling the power of the universe into human hands. When the dead walked they had no power and rarely were much more than drones. But there were ways. Bar death from a place of mortal earth, making all else that live within the house naught but spirits. Make the house your altar and mortar its walls with the spirits of the restless dead. So long as the Judas goat lay on its throne, her heart beating, they will do as they’re told because the house has a master. Neil smacked himself in the face and rose, carefully drawing his leg out of the floor. His calf was slashed in several places and the blood flowed freely into the floor. And then, when nothing lives but yourself, you summon the souls to the throne and...Neil winced. “What are you doing to me?” “Answering your question.” “Your father killed you, didn’t he?” The doll nodded. A dry stony creak came from his neck. “He thought my sacrifice would make him powerful. He was wrong.” A bleak realization dawned. “It gave the power to you.” The doll returned her gaze to Megan, who stood like a statue before her captor. Somehow she seemed different to Neil, though he couldn’t quite place why. “Why did you bring her here?”
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/17 The doll hung its head. It whispered something. “What was that?” The doll’s gaze met his and the black eyes gleamed. “I said ‘hurt him’.” High overhead he heard a snap. Neil dashed sideways just in time to avoid the falling chandelier. Underneath his feet he heard wood splinter. The brass chandelier hit the ground hard, sending shards of glass and crystal in all directions, and with it, the twisting brass itself, remade into a large, moving hand. Before he could react the metal fingers wrapped around him and he was spirited aloft. “I should have torn you apart the moment you stepped in here.” The doll’s elder voice seemed more and more distinct as time passed, like the older, more developed Rebecca was coming further to the surface with each moment. “Stop,” screamed Megan. He could hear her voice but all he felt was the cold metal clamping down tighter across his throat. He managed to look down just far enough to see Megan holding a small knife to her own throat. “You would do this to me?” The doll’s voice was low and cool, but there was an edge of betrayal behind it. “After all I’ve done for you, you’d deny me?” “Yes.” The resolve in Megan’s voice made Neil smile. Good job, kid. Show her who’s boss. “Let him go.” The hand around his neck relaxed and he fell to the ground before the doll. Rebecca Hemmingford, as much as her current body could show her rage, was beside herself. “Bad man,” the doll said scornfully, “Tried to take my toy.” It kicked him once in the leg out of spite, then again in the groin and the ribs. It was on this third kick that the doll’s delicate foot shattered. Now unable to hold its balance, it fell to the ground and began to cry. It was a forced display but much to his horror it did the job. Megan, so accustomed to caring for the doll, dropped the knife and ran to its side. Neil swore that just as the knife hit the ground he could hear the sound of laughter in the halls of Hemmingford Heights. But that was nothing compared to the laughter of its mistress. The brass hand took Megan’s between two of its fingers. The Hemmingford beast roared. “Mine, all mine,” cried the doll, beating her tiny fists against Neil’s chest. Out of pure instinct he rolled aside, in the process rolling over an object discarded a moment ago. The doll crawled forward, laughing madly, and with fluid movement took hold of the knife and plunged it into Rebecca Hemmingford’s black doll eye. The mistress of the house howled in pain and the house shook in response. Walls trembled and cracked, shooting chunks of plaster into the air. Beneath the rupture skin the wooden bones of Hemmingford Heights flexed and twisted. Wood snapped. Glass broke and walls fell. The house was tearing itself apart.
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/18 Black fluid coursed from the doll’s eye socket like crude oil. Where it touched the ground, smoke rose. The doll swore violently but couldn’t move. Her link to the house was broken and without it the house was dying. Neil grabbed Megan and ran for the nearest window. The tremors within had knocked the blockage from the windows. Neil removed the glass with a chair and hopped through, guiding the pregnant Megan through after him. Megan began to look back but Neil stopped her. They ran, mindless of the splintering and the crashing and even the cobblestones burning and smoking beneath their feet. Neil thought he caught a look at the gatekeeper statues as they passed through the final border of Hemmingford Heights. The statues were smiling. The pair didn’t stop until they reached the flower bed beyond the house’s reach. Exhausted and relieved, the pair collapsed on the field of scarlet blossoms. Bloody humor oozed from the tiny buds. It reminded him of a paper cut. The viscous fluid pooled around them, soaking their clothes with sweet scents of honey and rose essence. Neil inhaled and knew the house was dead. Its hold on the land had been released. For a moment he thought. He thought of Rebecca and of Megan. He thought of the flowers and the house. He ignored the blood. The secretions, dark and enchanting, grasped his mind and took him. Off in the distance there was a loud crash, the death rattle of Hemmingford Heights. Neil sighed. It was over. Sleep overtook them there on the flower bed of Murder. They could no fight it. Neil dreamed. There was an old man with gray eyes standing at an altar. All around him were men in robes, each holding a dagger. The chanting was in a language that he couldn’t understand. With a gesture the chanting man dismissed the supplicants and Neil saw the girl on the throne. In her lap was the one element that had not been painted afterward; a small porcelain doll with black hair. The man took a decanter and muttered a few words under his breath. He poured its red liquid out onto the head of the girl, who looked up at this man, her father, with awe. She allowed the blood to run down over her eyes without even a hint of discomfort. She was like a doll then, a tool of her father’s will. And she wore the smile of a knowing participant. When the knife came down she did not blink. Her smile did not lessen. And when the knife met the flesh of the young girl’s head there was not a single sound, save the cracking of bone. The light in Rebecca Hemmingford’s eyes died, but was soon reborn just a few inches below. The doll looked up at her father, who could not understand what had gone wrong, and heard his fate spelled out in two words. “Bad Man!” The dream went dark there and Neil awoke to the sound of his own screams. Above him was the broad expanse of a silver sky. The sight calmed him, stealing the images of the dream form his mind. He didn’t want to know what he’d seen. It was over and that was what mattered. Rebecca Hemmingford was dead.
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/19 Neil sat up. They were still in the field but the flowers had gone. In their place was a field of black ash, the final effigy to the death of Hemmingford’s masterpiece. It was on this ebony dust that they both lay. Megan, prostrate and awakening, lay by his side. Her pregnant form seemed somehow larger now. Neil looked over her face with gentle caring. The house was gone. The blood was gone. There wasn’t shred of evidence to suggest that either had ever been. Let his editors be disappointed. He didn’t want proof and if they didn’t believe the story then all the better for them. It was a liberating feeling. Megan rolled over to face him, surprised by her sudden change in bulk. Then that Neil first saw exactly how much her womb had swelled. She’d only been in the first trimester when they left the house. Now she seemed almost ready. It was impossible. “Neil,” she said, looking down at her womb in horror. He made no attempt to answer. Instead, he reached out to her womb and touched it. It was cold and fluidic, much like water balloon full of ice water. His touch left no marks on her unforgiving flesh. It was as if she was made of porcel... A pale shadow passed over Megan’s eyes and she grabbed hold of Neil’s head, drawing it to her mouth. “There once was a place that men loved to tread, “But something bad happened, Neil... He looked at her. “Now it’s owned by the dead.” Megan nodded, sweat streaming down her brow. “Its children are china, their mother is woe, “Now that we’ve met them—“ A contraction seized her body, arresting her voice. “You won’t ever go.” Neil’s heart thundered in his chest. His mind rebelled. They had escaped. This wasn’t right. But in Megan’s eyes he saw the truth. “I can bind no longer their vengeful calls—“ Megan’s hand lashed out and she leaned up, binding him so that he could see the rage in her eyes. A voice spoke through her, a rough, angry voice that he’d come to know in the roar of a living home. “And there is more to us than dolls and walls!” Neil shook off the hand. “What are you?” The face smiled. “For we are the spirit of restless hearts.” The voice stopped as a violent contraction rocked through Megan Ford’s body. The young woman screamed. Neil took her hand. “Neil,” she stammered, “I can’t...I can’t...feel...you.” Her voice was skipping as contractions seized her body. “I can’t...Aah!” The womb pulsated with her screams. The placid whiteness of her lower torso blushed along its surface, then moved back to white and then to a deeper, almost sickly gray. And still she screamed. A small dimple, no bigger than a pinhead, appeared just above
M. Bagen/Doll Parts/20 Megan’s navel. It expanded downward in a straight line of scarlet that disappeared beneath her waistline. Megan screamed a last, thick and gurgling scream and the red scar split. Neil could not move. He could not move because something rose from her. A thin hand unfolded in Megan’s split chest like a rose ascending from a well of blood. It flicked itself sideways, discarding the viscera that clunk to it, and rose. There was an arm attached, a thin, tanned arm that ended in a shoulder and kept on going. Neil closed his eyes, refusing to take in what he saw. He railed inside that this could not be possible. It was not happening. When he finally dared to open them, she was there. A woman with black eyes and hair stood before him, hovering over the remains of Megan Ford. Her body was lithe and athletic, an erotic figure clothed only in the viscera of her rebirth. Rebecca Hemmingford looked down at him, the doll reborn. Beneath her, Megan Ford; doll parts. The lich queen leaned down to meet the face of Neil Barrett. He was so far beyond terror that he could not even scream. “Do not feel sad,” she said, “She was only doll parts.” With one swift, impossibly strong movement, she grabbed him by the neck and held him aloft, herself floating above the ground. Neil stared into the black voids that were her eyes. The draining filled him, the sensation of being torn away an atom at a time. Deep beneath the words, hidden behind the screams, he could hear the last words of his killer. She’d said that the girl was doll parts and now he knew why he had been let inside. “And now you are too.” Originally published in: On the Other Side: Tales of the Unbelievable, 2005