Monday, August 11, 2008

The Doll in the Attic

(For our holiday in 2007, we went to Florida, taking in the sights, sounds and mouse ears of Orlando. To give ourselves a break, we decided to head down to the Keys and spent a couple of nights staying at the Curry House in Key West. While there, and possibly while under the influence of one too many mohitos, we decided to go on a ghost tour. One of the stories we heard introduced us to Robert the Doll. I hope he doesn't mind, but I found his story fascinating and just had to see what I could do with it. The first attempt at a story featuring Robert was rejected, so here it is, in its entirety.)

"I don't care if that was your favourite wrench, there's no way I'm going back in that attic."

I held my hands up, shaking my head like I was swatting Key West's ever-present mosquitoes. I don't know much other than plumbing, but I knew I didn't want to go up there again for a lousy toolbox. Ben slid off the bar stool, angry and fuming.

“Damn you, Jimmy”, he spat, “I've got enough crap to deal with today without you leaving my stuff all over town."

He turned to go, shoulders hunched, fists clenched, and I briefly thought I might be on the receiving end of one of his legendary right hooks. But Ben was my friend, my drinking partner on a Friday night, heck, every night, and I didn't want to see him as shaken up as I was. My hand shot up, grabbing his arm, stopping him in his tracks.

"What the hell...?" he said, glaring at me.

"Don't go up there, Ben, I'm telling you."

For a moment I didn't know if he was simply going to hit me, but something in my look must have worked its way in, because he sagged a little and sat back down on the worn barstool. His eyebrows knitted, he leaned forward.

"For God's sake, Jimmy, what happened?", he asked.

I loosened my grip on his arm and turned to the bar, my empty glass in my hands.

"Fetch a bottle of Jack and I'll tell you. I'm going to need a drink or six."

The bottle soon sat between us, the sour tang of the liquor burning down my throat. I spoke to my already half-drained glass, ignoring the handful of tourists, the bartender, even Ben.

I pointed at my empty glass and Ben poured, listening closely.

"You know what Key West is like this time of year; right in the low season between the Poker Run and Fantasy Fest. Sometimes all you can hear in the street is the creaking of 'Vacancy' signs on the porches. Sure, there's one or two out-of-towners around, sweating, burning and getting wired on the Cuban coffee, then heading home with their conch shells, key lime pie recipes and mosquito bites. But this place just feels asleep, you know? And yeah, I could quite easily fall onto the hammock and be as lazy as this place feels, but it's rent time and I'm a couple of Ben Franklins short."

"Anyway, that old lady in the Artist's House over on Eaton calls me up. She's standing in a bedroom, looking at a large damp patch in the ceiling and she knows it's short notice, but could I go over and fix the leak for her, she'll pay extra for the inconvenience, her guests are due in an hour. Seems she's getting into the B and B thing, probably needs the cash since her man died last year. Well, I figured I could easily get what I needed for the rent out of her; make a lot of noise for a while, then fix the problem and get back to my hammock. So I say yes and grab my stuff and head on over."

"YOUR stuff?", Ben exclaimed, snorting JD out of his nose. He wiped whiskey from his face and shook his head.

"Anyway", I said, ignoring him, "she's sweet enough and I knew I'd have no trouble convincing her of all the 'work' I was doing. She leads me upstairs and shows me the attic door. Just as I open it, she wiggles a finger at me, 'make sure you're nice to Robert', she said. Well, see, I know the poor dear's all alone in that place, so I smile and nod and wonder which planet she's currently on and climb on up."

"Well, Ben, that attic, I've never seen anything like it. The place was done out like a bedroom, fully furnished but all of it really, really small. A bed, all neat and tidy, a chest of drawers, a wardrobe with tiny clothes hanging in it, lace curtains on the window and right there in the middle of it all, sitting on a painted rocking chair, the creepiest damn doll you've ever seen. I mean, those black, empty eyes, I swear they were looking at me from the get-go. A bump of a nose and no mouth. Holding its tiny toy lion, wearing that little sailor suit, the damn thing seeming to say 'oh, are we going to have some fun with you'."

The shivers ran down my spine again and I drained my glass, nodding in gratitude as Ben silently filled it again to the brim.

"I shook off my nerves and set about looking for the leak. Yeah, I know I said I was going to take my time, but that damn doll really creeped me out and I figured the sooner I got done, the better I'd feel about putting it a long ways behind me. So there I am, under the eaves, in the gloom, when I hear a kid giggling behind me. I figure that the old lady has grandchildren visiting or it's a guest's rug rat, curious about what I'm doing, so I look behind me, ready to give them a lesson in Key West plumbing. But there's no-one there. Just me and that doll, rocking back and forth in its chair, looking at me over the arm of the chair. I suppose I must have knocked it when I walked past, or something."

I stopped, the images crowding into my head, the dulling effect of the drink only just kicking in. I drained the glass and glanced at Ben.

"So I finish up, making sure it's all fixed. The giggling comes again, then the pattering of tiny feet on the floor. I jump and crack my head on the eaves. And then something taps me on the shoulder."

"I really, really didn't want to look behind me right then. But I did, slowly, and I don't mind telling you I was more scared at that moment than I've ever been in my whole goddamn life, not even when I was head down in the bathtub with Wilma tearing the clapboard off the house."

I took a deep breath, shaking with fright at just the memory of it, still so clear in my head.

"There it was, that damn doll, standing by my shoulder, those cold, dead, black eyes glinting, looking right through me. I got from there to here in less than a minute and that's why I'm not going anywhere near that attic again."

I fell quiet and looked at the whiskey in my glass, waiting for Ben's reaction. I downed the rest of it and turned to him. He stared at me, his own glass sitting forgotten on the bar, hardly touched during my story. We said nothing for a long, long time, until he finally grabbed his drink and drained it in one.

"Dammit, Jimmy", he said, smiling a humourless smile. "You had me going then."

He stood up and leaned in, wrinkling his nose at the smell of my breath.

"I'm going to go and get my stuff", he said, slowly. "And then I'm going to come back here and knock you on your ass for making me go all the way up there."

He turned and strode out into the hot, humid sunshine, the door banging shut behind him. I just sat and watched it for a while, the circle of sunlight bright in the centre, and then turned to the bar, filling his glass, setting the almost empty bottle down on the bar. I knew he'd need a stiff drink when he got back from that attic and that damnably disturbing doll.

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