Other Tales of the Abysmal Dollhouse (in order):
Candy Stripe Ward
The Shopkeeper could smell the customer’s cancer as he walked into the store. He had entered The Abysmal Dollhouse with a face that held no emotions, but they were laying deep underneath, and she could feel them. Putting on a smile, The Shopkeeper glided over to the man. She asked if he needed any assistance.
“If it’s OK with you, I’ll just look around. Yes?” he asked. She nodded. “Good. Thank you. This is a very…interesting shop you have.”
“Thank you. Our dollhouses are all unique. Interesting, in many ways. Let me know if you need any information or help,” she offered one more time, and one more time he refused.
The Shopkeeper went to stand behind the main glass encased counter. She had to shush a few of the Dollhouse’s pleas of “Mine!,” excusing their desperate cries as just noise from outside when she noticed her customer looking around for what made that noise. He looked out the window and saw that the street had been like it was when he approached the store: it was empty. He smiled, shrugged, and continued to look around.
The Shopkeeper studied him. Short for a man, standing a few inches under her own five foot six, he was gaunt, with sunken eyes and cheeks. Salt and pepper stubble covered his face and neck, and he was mostly bald. The smile he had was gone now, replaced with that dead look he had when he first entered.
He examined many of the Dollhouses, reading the legends neatly hand written on their display placards. He made a few small grunts if he bent over too far on some, wheezing a few other times. The Shopkeeper noticed when he closed his eyes and then his face screwed up, wincing, as he stood in front of the Conservatoire d’épouvante Maison De Poupée. She hurried over to his side.
Just in time, as the Unfolding Doll was approaching him from behind, out of the shadows of some of the deadliest Dollhouses. Exerting her will, unflinching in her stare and challenge, The Shopkeeper spoke a few warding words under her breath, forcing The Unfolding Doll to retreat. There was a hiss of a threat thrown back at her, but The Shopkeeper won this slight skirmish. The Unfolding Doll oragamied itself away. All this happened in the few seconds it took for the man to get his composure back.
“I would like to show you a special Dollhouse. I think this is one that would be of interest to you,” she offered to the man. This time, he allowed her help and followed her to the opposite wall, nearer to the front windows. It was a replica of the Orange County Hospice, a double floored straight line design. The man choked and took a step back, but The Shopkeeper went to the Dollhouse and opened the side wall.
He stared; just…stood there and stared. The beds held little figures of cancer: he could just tell. The wards sectioned off with other terminal cases. It was all apparent, to him. It was like the one he had just visited, before he walked aimlessly around, winding up here. It was sterile clean, bright and open. He hadn’t been ready-not yet-to surrender when he had left the hospice with such heaviness. This…this was different.
He, Charles, noticed a doll standing off to the side of one bed, holding a closed book in her hands: a candy striper. It was odd to see one in this setting, the candy cane look of the red and white-striped pinafore just so not right. Yet, Charles was comforted by seeing a volunteer there, someone to help, to assist, to care. The candy striper moved. He passed one hand over his eyes, rubbing them, but when he opened them again the doll had the book open. It was sitting down, and he was looking up at it, as he was laying down in a bed.
The candy striper was reading to him. “Peter Pan,” his favorite book since he was a child, so long ago. Charles got lost in the telling of the tale, of Peter and Wendy Lady, of Michael and John, of Nana and Tinkerbell. He relished the reading, the escape into a world he loved, and in this… he forgot how much pain he had been in before.
The candy striper stopped at the end of the chapter, closed the book and rose. In her hands she now held a tray of baked goods, and all of them were ones Charles loved: Chocolate Eclairs, Napoleons, Black & White Cookies, Charlotte Russe, and those trio-colored cookie/cakes that he and his father had loved. “Take as much as you’d like, Charles,” the doll said. There was no mistaking the candy striper for a real woman, but he just didn’t care. He sampled and ate, and was more than sated. It had been a long time.
“Mr. Roman in the next bed says he could beat you in a wheel chair race. Are you up for the challenge?” she asked, her doll face not moving, but the excitement in her voice was evident, as it was also so nurturing and caring sounding.
Charles smiled the first real smile he’s felt in a very long time. He nodded, got into the wheelchair at the foot of his bed (it hadn’t been there before this, but Charles just didn’t care), and said “Ready!”
As the candy stripper helped get a beaming Charles into position, The Shopkeeper smiled as well. She got up from the kneeling position she had been in for so long, enjoying the feelings. Closing the wall of the ward, she heard laughter and friendly shouting noises. “Good,” she said out loud, looking for The Unfolding Doll. “Good. This one will never be yours.”
The Unfolding Doll was folded into the far shadows of the shop. The knife in its hand glinted of it’s own accord. It could wait, as its wielder could wait as well. Both thirsted for The Shopkeeper, but knew this was not the day. The Unfolding Doll crept from the far shadow into The Serpent House, to play.