Horror isn’t just about gratuitous blood, gore and violence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of extremity; when used appropriately, it can be utterly brilliant and evocative. However, too many people think that in horror, violence is the be-all and end-all; and in thinking so, they overlook the fact that often, it is the in the mundane and everyday that true horror can be found.
Ask a child what they’re scared of, and it isn’t going to be a knife-wielding maniac or a devious poltergeist. Instead, a child will often be afraid of something very ordinary – spiders, for example, or clowns (as an aside, I think that’s why Jake’s story ‘Becoming’ from the Pitchfork Diaries really knocked me for six with the way it played on that fear.)
For me, my very great fear was porcelain dolls.
There’s just something about those blank, glassy stares and painted smiles that even now sends a chill through me. My mother was an avid collector of them; perhaps it’s simply because we had a bad relationship that I took so strongly against them, but even now that I’m (allegedly) a rational adult, the sight of them is enough to bring me out into a cold sweat.
It was from that particular fear that I took inspiration for a short story that will be released this weekend in the ‘Satan’s Toybox: Demonic Dolls’ anthology by the wonderful Angelic Knight Press. Below is an excerpt from ‘Lullaby’.
She rolled onto her side so that she did not have to look at the doll. Squeezing her eyes tightly shut, Grace sang softly under her breath, singing the soothing lullabies that her parents had calmed her to sleep with since she was a tiny infant. The words drove away all of her fear, and the song soon faded away as the little girl drifted off to sleep with a drowsy smile on her face, rosy cheeks pressed into the white sheets and fair curls tousled around her chubby face.
When she awoke again, it was the middle of the night. All was silent in the small house, and the velvet darkness was seeping into the bedroom through the crack in the lilac curtains; the dim illumination of the child’s nightlight provided little resistance against it.
Throwing her arms out of the covers, Grace murmured sleepily as she rolled onto her back. There came an answering whisper, so faint that it seemed it must have been carried in upon the gentle breeze that was blowing in through the open window.
Jerked back into full consciousness, Grace froze where she lay, filled with the childlike fear of the darkness. Suddenly remembering the doll that her mother had placed next to the bed, her eyes flew open. “Mummy?” she whispered uncertainly, too afraid even to look around the room.
“Grace?” came the soft sigh once more, but it was not her mother’s voice that spoke it. “Grace, look at me...”
With a thrill of horror, Grace slowly turned her head to look sideways towards the little table that the doll was resting upon. It was still exactly where her mother had left it, and Grace’s eyes narrowed suspiciously as she stared at it properly for the first time.
The porcelain doll was beautiful. Blonde curls that were so like Grace’s own hung in elegant waves around the finely crafted face, a face that was so pale that it seemed almost to glow in the faint and eerie light of the bedroom. Pink lips pouted, fixed and immovable, but it was the eyes that Grace could not look away from.
Framed by thick, spiky lashes, the glass eyes were completely black. Blankly staring out into the room, the flicker of the nightlight was reflected in their depths as Grace stared into them. With a rising panic, she opened her mouth to call for her mother, but the words would not come. Instead, she heard the calm whisper once more.
“Don’t call for Mummy, little Grace, for she won’t come. Her mummy didn’t come to her, and she won’t come to you.”
Oh, my! So many times when I was Grace’s age I convinced myself that those hateful dolls were speaking to me in just such a manner. It was a tale that seemed to flow from the tips of my fingers with the greatest of ease; perhaps it took root from a nightmare long since buried, or perhaps it’s simply an amalgamation of all the myriad of ill thoughts I’ve had towards them over the years.
Writing the tale was an exorcism of sorts, but I still have no intention of having any of the wretched things in my home. I took great pleasure when I moved out in smashing to pieces the ones that my mother had bought for me, for they have no place in my home, not when my heart begins to race and I can’t rest easy with their glassy eyes fixed upon me.
To see what other tortured delights are contained in the anthology, head on over to the Facebook page for more excerpts. Satan's Toybox: Demonic Dolls is now available to buy at Amazon and Smashwords.