Little Alan hated it at his aunties house. She had a strange obsession – collecting life-size china dolls from all around the world, and her collection was both immense and terrifying. Whenever he was forced to visit, even on the best of occasions, he found himself watching the dolls warily, half-expecting them to attack him if he were to look away.
And this was not the best of occasions.
His mother had disappeared over the weekend and, as his father had died many years ago, Alan was being forced to come and live with his auntie.
In the house of china dolls.
Most old ladies collected cats, but china dolls was a whole new ballgame. They filled almost every room of the stately house, the largest flanking the entrances like a china army and lining the walls like they were queuing for the bathroom, while the smallest sat on shelves specially designed it seemed for the sole object of showcasing china dolls. Alan shuddered as he sat in the living room on his own, looking at each of the figures in turn. Some were smaller than his hand, others the size of newborn babies, whilst the largest were over six feet tall. Alan pulled at the collar of his shirt, then twitched at the cuffs of his child-sized suit. He picked up a doll that sat on the table in front of him, carefully turning it over in his hands. It was very lifelike...
He jumped as his auntie walked into the room, carrying a tray of tea and juice. She smiled at him through lipstick stained teeth, taking a seat next to him on the sofa.
“Do you like that one?” she asked, gesturing at the doll, “I made it myself, you know. It was the child of a friend of mine. I made quite a few of these, in fact. Would you like me to make one of you?”
Silently, Alan shook his head. He didn’t like the sound of that idea at all.
“Now, Alan,” she continued, her voice hoarse from decades of chain smoking, “would you like juice or tea?”
“Juice please,” Alan said politely, not actually wanting anything to drink. All he wanted was for his mother to come home so he didn’t have to stay here any longer.
Auntie poured the juice into a tea cup, handing the cup to Alan.
“Now be careful with that, young man,” Auntie said as Alan took the cup from her gnarled hand, “it’s part of a very expensive set, and I only use it for very special occasions.”
“Thank you, Auntie,” Alan said, carefully taking the cup and placing it on the coffee table in front of him next to a small china figurine.
“It’s sad about your mother,” Auntie began, lifting the teapot from the tray and pouring her tea, “taking off on you like that. Just like what your father did all those years ago.”
“My dad is dead,” Alan corrected.
“Declared dead,” Auntie said, sipping at her cup of tea, “they never found a body, remember? He’s probably out there somewhere, gallivanting around with some floozy.”
Alan swallowed a mouthful of juice, desperately trying to stop himself from screaming at her. How dare she say such things about his parents! She didn’t have the first clue about what had happened to them – she might have thought she knew her sister, Alan’s mother, but she did not know his dad. He took another sip of juice, choking it down to stop himself from lashing out.
“I’ve made up a room for you,” Auntie said between sips of tea, “it isn’t much, but it will do for now. Until we can get you into boarding school.”
“Boarding school?” Alan repeated.
“Oh yes,” Auntie said, “well, there’s not really enough room here for two people, and you can’t expect an old woman to take care of a boy all on her own, can you?”
Old woman? She was older his mother had been, but even so she was only in her forties. The smoking had taken care of ageing her prematurely, and her nervous nature had led to her arthritic joints seizing up on her over the years. Alan looked around the room; he didn’t much like the idea of having to go to boarding school, but then anything would be better than living here in the Wax Museum!
“Thank you for thinking of me, Auntie,” Alan smiled weakly. He didn’t mean it. If she’d really wanted him to stay with her she could have put some of her china dolls into storage.
“Now can I get you something to eat?” Auntie asked politely, “I have some biscuits to go with our drinks. Hobnobs? Bourbon? Custard Creams?”
“Anything will be fine,” Alan said, not really wanting any biscuits.
“I’ll bring a selection,” Auntie decided, getting up from her seat and leaving the room.
Alan breathed out, heaving a heavy sigh. He didn’t feel comfortable here, and he dearly hoped that boarding school would start soon.
While Auntie was absent from the room, Alan decided to have a walk around, to get a better look at some of the china dolls.
They really were hideous, the way the light glared off them in that gaudy way, but Alan couldn’t help noticing that one of the dolls near the doorway looked familiar.
It looked a little bit like his mum!
What a sicko, Alan thought to himself, buying dolls that look like your relatives. She hadn’t even had the decency to store it away; instead she’d left it where Alan would have to look at it whenever he wasn’t in his room, wherever that might be. It was probably a storage room full of chipped china dolls that weren’t quite good enough to have on display but that Auntie couldn’t bear to part with. He shuddered to himself, then took a more careful look at the doll that bore a striking resemblance to his mother.
Alan held out his hand to the doll, waving it in front of the dolls eyes, then chuckled. The eyes weren’t very lifelike, so he didn’t know why he’d done that, but it felt like the thing to do. Standing firmly in the doorway, Alan looked at the back of the china doll, trying to see the joins. It was pretty well put together, and almost completely smooth all the way round. It must have costs a bit, he thought to himself, backing slowly away so he wouldn’t knock it over.
As he did so, he backed into the male figure that was flanking the other side of the door. Turning as he felt himself bump into it, he desperately reached out to grab it before it could fall, but he was too slow...
The china doll fell as if in slow motion to the ground, shattering as it his. Pieces of china flew across the room, a few pieces hitting Alan in the face and cutting him. He backed away from the pieces and, in so doing, backed into the female doll.
That started to slowly spin in place, threatening to topple and shatter too, but Alan didn’t noticed.
He was looking at what was inside the male doll.
The body of a man lay on the carpet, loosely wrapped in cellophane from head to toe. A dead face leered out at him, it’s mouth fixed in a decomposed grin. Terrified, Alan tried to speak, to scream, but before he could the female statue hit the ground.
He turned at the noise, which had made him jump, and saw that this too contained a dead body wrapped in cellophane.
But this body was fresher, and far more easily recognisable.
“Mum?” he managed, before he looked around to see his Auntie standing in the doorway.
“Oh dear,” she smiled, shaking her head slowly from side to side as she approached Alan, “it looks like I’ll need to make some replacements.”