Did you ever have one of those dreams where you are lost in darkness? This is exactly how I was feeling in the beginning of this story.
What’s more, my face touched the ground; my left arm was twisted and my right leg almost broken. It was not painful – my kin don’t feel pain – but I had the impression that my mind was scattered in obscurity. This must be quite close to the state of mind of people with a mental disease and I can tell you that this was not pleasant at all. Yet, the worst part of my misfortune was the song.
There was an old woman
And nothing she had,
And so this old woman
Was said to be mad.
The shrill voice that sang was so annoying I thought it would pierce my head. And whoever sang was tone deaf. That was horrible – that was like a torture.
“You were going to tell me the story of the doll,” said another voice to the singer. “What happened to her?”
She’d nothing to ask,
And nothing to give
And when she did die
She’d nothing to leave.
Maybe I was in hell and that was the way demons had chosen to punish me…
“Er— What has this to do with the doll?”
“I have heard that starting a story with a song was classy,” replied the singer.
“Maybe so, but this is a silly song. It is off topic.” And the singer is out of tune, I thought and I hoped that he would shut up forever. He didn’t.
“It is not off topic,” he complained in his high pitched voice. “You see, the story starts with an old woman. Some said she was a witch; others said that she was mad; some pretended that she was both those things. Anyway, she died – like the old woman in the song. Only the old lady in my story did leave something behind: a big house and a black cat called Nox. Which means night, but very few knew this; most people thought it was a demon’s name. So the black cat was not much loved in the neighborhood. On top of that, he was ugly as sin. He was one-eyed and with the horrible scar at the place of his missing eye he looked like a nightmare freak. Soon after the old woman died, eerie things happened in the house at night. Many believed that the cat caused all those frightening events.”
“How is that possible?”
That was what I was going to ask too – if only I could talk. Unlike the dreadful song, this story had piqued my curiosity.
“Well, there was a rumor that the old woman had not died from natural causes – that she was actually murdered; her ghost haunted the house seeking revenge and the cat was the instrument of her vengeance. Others said that the old witch had passed her magic powers to the cat before she died. According to another version, the witch had performed black magic and summoned a demon. The demon killed her and then entered the cat…”
That was fascinating!
“Now- seriously, do people still believe in ghosts, demons and black magic? Come on – they don’t!!” This third voice that I heard for the first time, sounded as if the throat of its owner was filled with bubbles.
“This was a long time ago. More people believed in ghosts and magic at the time of the old woman than nowadays. To be fair, what happened in the house after her death was eerie and difficult to explain; you can’t blame people for being scared. At night time, strange sounds came from inside the house: creaking and cracking noises; whispers; loud laughter.
Late in the night, one could see light through the windows. A band of young students who happened to pass by late at night swore that there was some kind of feast going on inside the house. There was something really creepy in the air, they said. So they weren’t bold enough to enter and find out what was going on. All sorts of stories went around – some people affirmed that they saw malevolent luminous apparitions through the windows and in the garden. Whether you believe all that or not, the truth is that there was something odd since the old woman died. Something nasty and evil…”
“Oh, please!!! Soon you’ll tell us that hell had come loose and its inhabitants moved into that house!!” Bubbles emitted a gargling inarticulate sound that was probably his version of laughter. I cursed him mentally for interrupting the story.
“That was rumored too,” went on Shrill Voice. “Some thought that demons or spirits of dead sorcerers feasted in the house…”
“GRHAHAHAGR – oh, you’re so funny!! As if demons and powerful spirits had no better place to go…!!!” If stupid Bubbles kept interrupting the story, I would be happy to cast on him a spell that would take him to Hell. If only I knew such spells…
“That’s what people said,” complained Shrill Voice. “There were those who provided rational explanations too. One thought was that outlaws had taken advantage of the fear caused by the empty house and turned the place into a criminals’ lair. They met there secretly and they took care in using all sorts of tricks to make people believe that the house was haunted. According to another version, some magic sect performed their rituals in the cave of the abandoned house. However, when people finally entered the house, there was no evidence of human presence there. Whoever had lived or feasted there should have left something behind… The only one actually haunting the place was Nox – the ugly cat of the old woman. He was often seen in the roundabouts of the house at night; he stared at people with his only eye that glowed in the darkness with such a wicked gaze that many were those who feared the cat more than the house.”
“But what does all this have to do with the doll?” That was the soft voice of the one who had interrupted that awful song. As much indebted as I was to him for having stopped my torture, I was a bit annoyed now. His obsession with this doll was stupid – who cared about a doll when the rest of the story was so interesting? I didn’t – that’s for sure!
“If you only stop interrupting all the time I’ll tell you. (On this one I agreed with Shrill Voice.) In spite of its bad reputation, the house was finally sold. The family who bought it were rich people. They restored the house and it really looked beautiful…”
Oh, please!!! Now it would all be about family diners, roast turkeys and lovely kids. When it was so nice with the demons and the ghosts feasting in the house, he was going to spoil it! What a shame! If only I could talk—
“The oldest daughter of the family was studying abroad. The couple moved into the house with their two younger children. The boy was shy and so quiet that it was sometimes hard to notice he was around. The little girl was something else. She was about five and beautiful like an angel. She was a cheerful little thing; she talked all the time, she sang and danced and invented all sorts of games. Everybody adored her the moment they saw her. Wherever she went, the girl had her doll with her. She loved this doll very much and she treated her as if she was a real person – as if she was her best friend. She would go nowhere without the doll; she could not sleep if she did not hold the doll in her arms…”
Of a sudden, I was feeling weird – as if the world whirled; as if my head was going to explode. What was happening to me???
“The neighbors and family friends found the love of the little girl for her doll as charming as everything else about her. Everybody thought that the parents of the child were the luckiest people in the world. But the parents knew that this was not true. Oh, they loved their little girl – sure they did! Only there was that weird behaviour of hers; those dark moments only known to them and kept in the household as a secret. Nobody had ever seen the little girl talking to invisible creatures. Not an imaginary friend – that would be normal for her age. The child talked with those insubstantial beings as if they really were present in the room. Her eyes glittered; her little face became flushed as if she was feverish. How sad her mother was when she saw her little daughter in this state; how desperate she was that her child was in a world where nobody else had access. If only she could also perceive this reality, be it for a short while, well, then maybe she would be able to help her little one when she was so scared and upset in the night. For the child would have horrible nightmares; she would wake up and scream and cry and complain about hallucinatory nonsense. The doctors said that the child had night terrors. She was frail and confused as her mind could not distinguish between dreams and reality. The little girl was confined in a strange, nightmarish world. This also explained her attachment to her doll that everybody else found so charming. Her mother loathed to see her beloved angel talking to an inanimate object as if it were a real person while she avoided the company of the other children of her age. The mother would gladly have thrown the hateful doll into the dustbin had the little girl not been so attached to her. But deep inside her, she knew that this would not solve anything. Her daughter’s mind was sick and that was not the fault of the doll.”
Lisa! My dear little Lisa… Where was she now?
“How sad,” said the voice of the shy one.
“Yes. Very sad, indeed. But I’m afraid that it becomes even worse. One night the little girl had one of those horrible nightmares. She woke up crying and uttering unintelligible stuff. Her parents rushed to her bedroom, but the little girl was not there. They found her in the kitchen. That was a horrid sight: she stood there, her face as livid and expressionless as a cadaver’s; her blond hair dishevelled and hanging on her face. Her white nightgown was stained with blood and she held a knife in her hand. On the floor, in a pool of blood, lay a cat. His belly was open and his guts spread out. His one eye was wide open while a scar was visible at the place of his other eye…”
“Oh, please stop it,” begged Bubbles. “I’m going to be sick!”
I was already sick – whatever the equivalent of “sick” in my kin. My twisted arm and my broken leg burned me; my mind was a dark labyrinth of sorrowful visions.
“You wanted to know the story of the doll. I just told it to you; it is not my fault that the story is horrible. I warned you that the tale was not a pleasant one.”
“What happened to the little girl?” The shy fellow was sad, but in my state of mind I did not care about him.
“After that night, the family moved. They moved in a hurry, but before leaving, the mother threw the doll of the little girl in the attic. She hated the damned thing; somehow she blamed it for whatever had happened to her daughter. I don’t know more about them – nobody does. The lady who collected their correspondence said that the mother was under treatment and the little girl had been committed to a madhouse…”
“That’s hardly surprising! The kid was mad!!!”
Enough! I would not allow this.
“Shut up, will you? You can’t talk like that about Lisa! If you say one more word about her, you’ll have to deal with me – and you don’t want this, believe me!!”
I could now clearly see all of them. Shrill Voice was a mouse. Bubbles was a toad (why, I should have guessed was my mind not so blurred up!) And Mr Shy was… a dragonfly! They were staring at me in terror; I am sure they would have run away if they could, but they stayed there and watched me as if they were petrified. I have this effect on people – and on animals.
“Don’t gape at me like that- I won’t eat you! I only wanted you to know that Lisa was not mad. She was special and she certainly was different. She could see and sense things other people could not perceive. She sensed the sadness in the house. She knew that the old woman had lost her little girl and had become involved with magic just to bring her back. Lisa saw the little girl – they talked together. She saw the old woman, her mysterious philtres; the ghost of the little girl emerging out of the green fumes. She saw the ugly cat that tried to protect the lonely woman; he was her companion, her sole comfort. She saw all those things in her dreams. And those images were filled with sorrow and grief and they seemed so real! But Lisa was only a little girl; she could not figure out the meaning of her dreams. She was scared. She thought that the ones that appeared in her dreams were monsters; she mistook sorrow and grief for threats against her. Would she have an understanding grown-up with her, someone who would take her seriously and try to explain the meaning of her dreams, she would be able to cope with them. So, as it was, her mother thought that she was insane and she took her to psychiatrists and other doctors who tried to cure her. They were all convinced that something was wrong with her and that scared Lisa even more. And her fears led to the horrible incident with the cat… All this is actually so sad and unfair and it should not have happened had people been more open-minded,” I concluded hurriedly. I would not say more about the cat – I had already told them more than I ought to.
For a moment, there was silence. The mouse was the first one to speak. “How come you can understand us and talk? Dolls don’t talk. Also, your arm was twisted, your leg was broken. How have you repaired yourself? How can you move on your own?”
“And why do your eyes give off that green light? It’s scary! You are not an ordinary doll. What are you?”
The dragonfly did not talk. Maybe he was too scared; or he was too wise.
There were things I could not explain to them – I was not allowed to. But I did not want them to fear me either.
“Look,” I said in a softer, gentle voice. “I know that humans have not been nice to you either. They were as mean to you as they were to the old woman and her ugly cat; as stupid and intolerant as the mother of my poor Lisa. I took care of her – she still has nightmares about me and her pills won’t cure them—But that’s not important. You,” I stared at the mouse, “they’ve hunted you and tried to kill you with poison. You came to hide in this abandoned place because it’s safe.” The mouse nodded and lowered his eyes.
“And you – they don’t like you either. You are an insect; they think insects are disgusting and they kill them. You found a refuge here, but they have killed your whole family.” The dragonfly uttered the equivalent of a sigh. “They would destroy my entire kin if they could,” he said in a sad voice.
“How do you know all this? You were just lying here on the floor for years.” The toad darted a suspicious glance at me.
“You were caught by a naughty little boy. He wanted to kill you with a knitting needle – in his silly game he pretended it was a sword. You escaped, but that left you a big scar on your belly and a wounded dignity.”
The toad said nothing. My eye was caught by a broom in a dusty corner. “Tomorrow is Halloween; this year it will be on a full moon night,” I muttered absent-mindedly.
“So what?” The mouse snorted with contempt. “Why should we care about a silly human feast?”
“We do care,” I replied stressing every word “Because this year we are going to celebrate it as well.”
They all gazed at me questioningly.
I pointed at the mouse. “You are good at making cracking noises and you run so fast and hide so well that you are often not noticed – as if you were invisible. You will be a ghost.”
Before he had time to answer, I whispered the magic words to invoke Arachnea, the spider-queen and the Power of her magic cobweb. Silver light enveloped the mouse. Then he appeared as a huge ethereal version of himself made out of mist and moonlight-cobweb. He had white eyes and big, sharp teeth.
“I have never been so strong,” he squealed in delight.
I nodded in satisfaction. He was terrifying.
“Now, you.” The dragonfly was going to protest, but I left him no time to speak either. “You will be a vampire.”
“But… I don’t drink blood!”
“Don’t worry about this.” I invoked the Moth sorcerers – Supreme Lords of the Dark Swamp Vermin. I received the power of the Hypnotic Dart and transmitted it to the dragonfly. Soon he turned into a tall, handsome insect-fairy with lovely wings, red eyes and pointed fangs.
“I have never been so handsome,” he exclaimed while admiring his lovely outfit in black velvet.
“Yes, indeed. If I was not a doll, I would marry you,” I replied ironically. He was so enthusiastic that he did not get the sarcasm – or he ignored it. “Thank you so much,” he said cheerfully. I sighed.
“And you will be a living dead jester,” I said to the toad. “The most terrifying kin – they are even feared among the Dark Ones.”
“Whatever you say – I suppose there is no point in objecting anyway.”
I invoked the Muskrat, King of the Living Dead and received the Power of the Scent of Decay. The toad looked like a jester that could take his eyes out of their sockets, cut his limbs and jiggle with them and separate his head from his throat and display it while a forked, long tongue would dart out of its mouth.
“He- he – I’ve never had so much fun,” gargled the toad. “And I love my costume.”
“I’m happy you do. Now, I will give you back your ordinary aspects and you will have to keep them until tomorrow night.”
They all nodded. A while after, we were all sitting on the floor chatting, laughing, telling ghost stories and old fairy tales. We looked like a cute group – a lovely doll and her little friends – a mouse, a toad and a dragonfly.
We’ll be here tomorrow and we will be waiting for you. You already look what my friends will look like.
As for me—
I am a witch’s soul. I am the dark power of a demon-cat. I am the essence of a child’s nightmares; I am a spirit of philtres that poison dreams.
I will be your host in a journey to the realms of darkness. I will take good care of you.