Current Attractions 2016
The Doll Factory
My heart was beating so hard, I struggled to see straight. Sweat saturated my brow, armpits, and lower back. It was ridiculously hot and stuffy in that mausoleum. I can't be sure if I was in such a state because of who I was with, this amazing woman that I've wanted for years now, or because we were jointly breaking into my employer's family crypt.
Probably both. In my head I knew this was all going to end badly, but I couldn't stop this far into the escapade.
Allow me to back track just a bit and explain the circumstances leading to this moment.
I have been a clerk for the Kingsbury family for ﬁve years now. I work for Robert Kingsbury, the current head of the estate. Both his father and grandfather passed only a year apart, and he's overwhelmed trying to run the business, household, and fortune that's all been suddenly dropped into his lap. I have been going through old paperwork catching up on some lax bookkeeping and doing some reorganization of important documents.
The uncontested founder of the family fortune is Johnathan Kingsbury himself, Robert's grandfather. Johnathan's uncle, Alastair Kingsbury, was of the ﬁrst generation of Kingsburys to be born in America after the immigration from Somerset, England. A hardworking and intelligent family, it wasn't until Johnathan established the tobacco ﬁelds and built the Manor that the family's legacy was solidiﬁed. Alastair was Johnathan's last living relative at the time, and they were very close.
A travel journal I'd found detailed several of Johnathan's and Alastair's foreign excursions. Many trips were to tobacco-growing countries such as Macaroon, Jamaica, and Cuba. It was interesting to read the personal notes, talking about encounters with locals, business opportunities, or things they'd seen.
Others trips were strictly for pleasure. The two seemed particularly drawn to sites with supernatural histories, an interesting parallel given some of the things one hears about this family and this locality in general.
The one entry that caught my eye was a trip to Norway in 1864. The business details were tedious, but the personal note scrawled out, "Alastair bought doll at Larsen workshop; given to Clara; greatly received"
This was the ﬁrst reference I'd ever heard to the doll I saw in all the paintings and photographs of Clara Kingsbury, Johnathan's daughter, whom had died in a tragic drowning accident when she was eleven. "Mattie" I'd been told was the doll's name.
I contemplated some interesting coincidences. About ten years ago, at a New Year's gathering at one of my father's business partner’s home, I was introduced to one of the most beautiful and intriguing women I'd ever met. With her auburn hair, high cheek bones and ice-blue eyes she was a Scandinavian goddess, and I remember though she spoke perfect English her Norwegian accent was clearly discernible. I was utterly smitten with her immediately.
Her name was Anja Larsen, and she was a doll maker. She'd immigrated to the U.S. year before.
I tried courting her. We had dinner together a few times. In the end, it was not meant to be, though I've secretly held a special place in my heart for her ever since.
Presently, it took me a few weeks to get to her. Her shop is only open by appointment and she's reclusive, though I was lucky enough to one day to catch her in her shop selling one of her amazing dolls. She seemed a annoyed with me until I told her about Clara and Mattie, and about the entry in the travel journal. Then her entire demeanor changed. She was lively, and joyous, and thanked me profusely for seeing her. I won't lie: my heart swelled in my chest. I longed deeply for her.
She invited me to dinner that night and I, of course, I said yes.
As it turned out, the "Larsen Workshop" noted in the journal was her parents' shop in Norway. It was they who taught her the craft of doll-making and who'd originally sold the doll brought to America and given to Clara. Both of her parents were now deceased.
She ﬁxed those eyes on me. "I came to America to ﬁnd that doll. It's the last one of my parents' making."
I was confused. How could it be, I asked. "All of the others were burnt with them."
With them...? Her parents? What kind of awful circumstances had she ﬂed from?
"You will help me get it, won't you? I've been looking all this time. I suspected maybe the Kingsburys, but how would I know? I was starting to think I'd never ﬁnd it after this long."
She squeezed my hand. I knew she was playing me, but you know how that goes. You rush headlong anyways.
Stealing a set of keys was difﬁcult. The Caretaker's set of estate keys had disappeared after his death last year. Poor chap was nearly 80. Other sets were fabricated from the family's master keys, of which I took one.
Subsequently, as Anja and I were then entering that mausoleum a mere 48 hours after having dinner together I was, as I said, on the verge of some kind of breakdown. I was stealing from my employer, and I was surely breaking several laws about grave robbing. Anja's enthusiasm and dependence on me dragged me along behind her, nevertheless.
We made our way past the ﬁrst initial cofﬁns, passing Jack Kingsbury, Lillian Kingsbury, Johnathan Kingsbury, Ella Kingsbury, and ﬁnally standing in front of Clara's. It was a small cofﬁn, and I stood in silence suddenly aware that I was about to desecrate a child's remains. Anja seized upon the stone lid.
"Help me," she grunted.
I did as she commanded, nauseous at what we were doing.
The lid grated to the side and I moved the lantern to see. A dusty, crumbling corpse lay within, grinning for all eternity and staring up into nothingness. The doll was nestled in its arms.
Anja snatched the doll with wide eyes, her breast heaving from toil and excitement. I couldn't tear my eyes from her. Such a savage beauty.
She hugged the doll and purred into it, "Wake, child."
I squinted. Was she losing her mind? She kept repeating it, and stroking the doll like a baby. That was starting to make me feel really uncomfortable. Suddenly the last shred of excitement vanished and I was struck with the reality of standing next to an open cofﬁn with a woman talking lovingly to an antique doll we'd just plucked from the arms of my employer's great aunt's corpse.
None of that, however, struck me as hard as when the doll visibly sighed and moved. Anja squeaked and laughed. She caressed it, and cooed, "Feed, my darling."
I didn't feel much, it happened so quickly. I was tired, distressed and confused, so when the doll looked at me with shining eyes, showing a mouthful of tiny knives, and leapt at me, I was on my back spurting blood everywhere before I comprehended. The porcelain demon worked at my entrails. I was too dumbstruck to do anything about it.
I knew it was the end. I was already feeling cold. Anja knelt down and touched my cheek tenderly with her hand. "Thank you," she said, and I knew she meant it. She scooped up Mattie, wiping its mouth with my shredded shirt.
She then stood up and left me lying there. "No, we'll come back for him,” She said to the doll. “Right now I'm taking you home to the workshop. We have to wake the others."
The mausoleum door groaned closed, and I lay in darkness.
THE LADY IN BLACK
Day ﬁve in America and we've ﬁnally had a chance to leave our modest hotel in downtown Corning to venture out to meet our client, Mr. Robert Kingsbury, at the eponymous manor. I admit to a sort of thrilled excitement!
Carmen, however, was still quite uncomfortable. She felt uneasy ever since we landed in New York City and traveled upstate as they call it. We were, after all, entering one of the most haunted territories in the world. And yet, this is the kind of opportunity the Society exists for, and no other member has had the chance to spend time here really digging into the stories that come across the pond to us. It's tantalizing, the things we'd heard about this place over the years: witches, necromancers, angry and unsettled spirits all bathing in the currents of ghostly, preternatural energy as it courses through the area like rivers emanating from spectral lands.
And the coup de grâce? The Kingsbury dynasty, a cursed bloodline acting as the epicenter around which the maelstrom circles.
Carmen naturally sensed this all differently than I. Her sensitivity to such things made her a valuable travel companion, though her increasing nervousness even started to corrupt my own initial enthusiasm. It didn't dawn on me until now that if there was a kernel of truth to some of these stories that we were journeying into more than we've ever dealt with before.
We arrived at the Manor for supper and sat talking for several hours with our gracious but sad host. Robert related the incident involving the organ from the damaged ballroom, how it had seemingly become the wellspring of a supernatural event that beggared disbelief. The organ had been torn apart by Mr. Kingsbury and his steward, halting the incident, as other staff members outside the room had broken the locks on the doors. Afterwards the organ, along with other artifacts from the old ballroom, were disposed of.
Unfortunately, it would seem his young son, William, came to his current state ever since: complete catatonia. The boy doesn't speak anymore. He will eat on occasion, but merely stares off silently, indifferent to any stimuli. Such a tragic turn for someone that we were told was a bright, energetic, and outgoing young man.
The calamity continued. Robert's brother, Howard, whom had begun assuming some of the burden of day to day business, disappeared the following spring during an errand in the country. And shortly thereafter Robert's wife, Gretchen, also disappeared, evidently without any traces whatsoever. Add to that his son's near-vegetative state of the last few months, plus the increasing intensity of both a rat infestation, and appearances of an alleged supernatural entity. This poor man certainly has my sympathy and support and I'm committed to helping in any way I can.
We found ourselves collected in William's room that evening. Evidently many of the sightings of the so-called "Lady in Black" centered on this ﬂoor in this wing of the manor. I hoped for some kind of an event but I was not optimistic. I was to be quite wrong in that assumption.
At about 11 pm, Carmen started suddenly and announced that it was beginning. Robert sat up in his chair. A sound in the walls started. Movement. At ﬁrst a subtle rustling noise, then rising to a thick rushing like the walls would burst. Carmen and I looked around as the sound spread around the room, engulﬁng the perimeter. "Rats," she said, matter of factly. Robert scooted closer to his son's bed.
The sound of thousands of unseen little feet swept through the walls, diminishing, as we heard a raspy, hollow sigh down the hall. We all sat wide eyed, peering down the corridor. Two rats rounded the corner from the stairs, and ambled towards us. A shadow appeared on the wall cast by a ﬁgure just out of sight. I became quite alarmed at this and I could see Carmen as well.
Never had we experienced a manifestation so powerful, so palpable. Robert's breath picked up too, though his face wore his broken, tired spirit. This wasn't the ﬁrst time he'd seen this specter.
The two rats stopped at the door as a dark shape rounded the far corner. The air seemed to congeal around us. The ﬁgure walked purposefully down the hall towards us in the room. As it came closer we could make out its shape much more clearly: a woman, in a long formal gown with a veil. She was made wholly of darkness, a shadow made substance. Her face, hair, and garb were so black they seemed to suck in the light. The gaslights visibly dimmed in intensity as the dark form passed each one. As she moved closer I noted ectoplasmic vapors swirling about her features, a silvery sheen moving across her silhouette making even the dress and veil seem as though they were living things. She was alive and graceful and strangely beautiful, while at the same time completely terrifying in her unearthly nature. It touched on something so primal and unnatural in me that I began to tremble.
Another wave of sounds swept past the room, making the spaces behind the walls throb and hum. Then, silence again.
The phantasm moved into the room, pausing to look at each of us. It walked smoothly closer to Robert. Its footfalls made no sound. It stood near Robert, and something changed in his upturned face. His abject terror melted away and another emotion took its place. Was there recognition?
Carmen gasped and said something in Spanish. I glanced at her astonished face, following her gaze to the Kingsbury boy, whom was now sitting up in his bed staring in wonder at the dark form. I swallowed hard and quietly said Robert's name. I said it again, louder this time and he looked at me, mouth trembling. I entreated him to look upon his son, and he did, standing up from the chair suddenly. The dark ﬁgure stepped to the bedside.
The two rats from the door jumped up onto the bed and we were all too stupeﬁed at the unfolding scene to shoo them off or to even act in any other fashion. A bony, shimmering black hand reached out and caressed the boy's cheek. William's eyes were bright and alive, staring into that abyss. Carmen stood, and I remember she whispered, "Oh my God, she's..." William cut her off, speaking only one word that echoed in the chilly silence: "Mommy?"