The Doll Collector

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Chapter 99

It was likely to be another quiet weekend for the Castle family. Abigail wasn’t about to complain at that. I’m happy to welcome a couple of days of quiet before the madness begins.

She had been visited by nearly every possible family member over the previous month. Some had claimed Christmas to be the reason for their visit, but every one of them spent some time getting Abigail’s first-hand account of her few days in Hell.

She had seen a psychiatrist once a week, who assessed her as being of sound mind. She would continue to see the woman for support over the next few weeks, whilst attending to scheduled television appearances, interviews for magazines and newspapers, and a meeting with a ghost writer and his agent about a possible book deal. A quiet weekend was essential before things got busy.

Starting the day with the usual shower (at a sensible temperature), she had been unable to answer the door when a package had been delivered.

As she took her time getting dried and dressed, all family activity downstairs seemed to grind to a halt. Everyone was being far too quiet for some unknown reason. She screwed up her face whilst brushing her hair in the mirror. I wonder what’s shut them up. She smiled to herself. I guess it must be something significant.

As she walked down the stairs she could see a large box sitting there, addressed to her. She frowned. I get Facebook messages and email. No one ever sends me letters, let alone a package of this size.

News of her ordeal had been around for some weeks, and she was yet to attend any media-orchestrated events other than a very brief press conference with the police to announce her safe return. Her status was nowhere near that of a genuine celebrity. A smile crept onto the corner of her mouth. I wonder who it’s from. It could be the start of some serious fan mail.

As she approached the box, fear gripped her. It was a fear she had not felt for more than four weeks. She reached out a hand to touch the box, but she felt unable and unwilling to do so.

“I think you’re right to be cautious,” her father said, standing there with his arms folded. He walked towards the box. “I’ll carry it outside. Maybe it’ll be safer to open it out there.”

She looked out of the window in the door. The sky was clear and the ground was dry. She nodded as she said, “Okay.”

The previous Abigail would have rolled her eyes at her father’s reaction. The new more cautious version of herself, however, was determined not to let anything ruin the family life that had been almost utopian since her return. As things stood, she was happy to be as careful or as paranoid as her father.

As the box was carried outside with little difficulty, Abigail’s mind flashed back to the scene of Joshua disappearing into the water by the ship in Dover. She gulped. They never found the body. She then shook her head. A lot of bodies are never recovered when they fall into the sea. They told me that.

Had Abigail not felt so nervous about the unexplained package, she would have laughed at her father and the way in which he was trying to open it. It was a large cardboard box with Post Office insignia on the outside. Maybe the packaging is meant to lure us into a false sense of security. Or maybe there’s nothing wrong with its contents.

She watched her father duck comically next to the box that was probably up to his knees in height, with a similar width and depth.

“You’re opening a box, Dad,” she said, “not defusing a bomb.”

He looked at her, concerned. “How do you know?”

She opened her mouth to respond, but she could not think of the words to say. Feeling her heart beat faster, she backed off a step or two. I really hope he was joking.

Moving as slow as she had ever seen him, her father removed the tape and pulled back the flaps, turning his face away and only daring to glance back when nothing exploded. He looked inside, confusion written all over his face.

Abigail joined him, standing there, staring into the box. It was safe. She looked inside and froze. The small wooden doll, created in her image, was staring up at her, lying on top of a substantial amount of bubble wrap. It had been painted, the hair had been finished and it had been dressed in a perfectly tailored miniature school uniform. There was an envelope lying next to the doll.

With trembling hands she picked up the envelope and struggled to open it. There was a single folded piece of paper inside that bore the same stationery mark as the hotel in which she had been photographed. She read the note as quickly as her shaking hands would permit.

Abigail,

Sorry.

Some of the contents of this box belong to you and to your family. I trust that you will be able to find a suitable home for the remainder of the contents.

Sincerely,

Your Loving Kidnapper, Joshua

She dropped the note and raised a hand to her mouth. Before she knew it she was shaking from head to toe. Tears were streaming down her cheeks and she couldn’t move. All of the fear, dread, anxiety and helplessness returned in an instant.

So great was the sensation that everything else seemed to disappear into nothingness. It took some considerable time before she realised that her entire family were standing around her, hugging her tight.

The shakes started to ease. The paralysing fear started to dissipate. Never underestimate the power of the love of family.

She was walked back inside, still feeling numb. Her father carried the box and placed it on the living room floor. She took a seat on the sofa as she carefully lifted each item out of the box and placed them in a line on the floor. It felt as if she was using someone else’s arms to do it. Everything felt surreal.

Six wooden dolls were inside the box. A large manila envelope stuffed with something was underneath. She saw her dad open it and stare at its contents, pleased, before tipping them out. Several bundles of bank notes fell to the floor.

“He’s repaid my five grand,” he said, looking confused and happy at the same time.

“He wants me to give these dolls to the girls he took,” she said, hugging herself. Through her tears, she asked, “He survived, and sent these to me. Why?”

Her mother and father looked at her and shrugged. They can offer me emotional support, but they’ll never be able to provide answers.

Over the past few weeks she had slowly divulged more details of her abduction and the chaotic travel from place to place. She had recalled and recorded as many details of her journey from school child to prisoner, from prisoner to child model, and from child model to the verge of child prostitution, and then to hostage, all in just a few days.

The existence of the dolls themselves was not a surprise to her family. They were, however, surprised to see them all on their living room carpet.

“Maybe he’s had a change of heart.” Her mother said.

“I’m not sure,” answered her dad, still holding the bundles of money. “There might be more going on here.”

As it turned out, there was more to the mysterious package. A phone call from the police a few minutes, later, followed by a good while spent viewing a twenty four hour News channel, confirmed the suspicions of Abigail and her father.

Joshua had been found hanged in the upper room of a guest house in Dover. There was no suicide note, no identification, but it was him.

* * * *

They had explained to the police that they had received a box from the man, but the police had no interest in taking the investigation any further. They had been busy piecing together evidence regarding the child modelling setup that they had helped to uncover. There was nothing to be done with further evidence, especially when the man behind it all was already dead.

After taking about a day to recover from the package, and then the news of the death of her kidnapper, Abigail had settled on a course of action.

She took a seat on the large family sofa next to her dad and nudged him in the ribs with her elbow. “What were you planning on doing with that money?”

“Putting it back into savings,” he said, almost like a question.

“I have another idea.”

The family listened intently as she explained her own thoughts concerning the package received the day before. No one seemed to have any objections.

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