It was a cold November evening when mother died. She had been sick for a few years prior so unfortunately her passing didn’t come as a surprise. Even so, the sight of her in the casket, lined with gloss and intricate designs, coupled with her blue lips and glazed eyes was enough to empty a girl of her innocence. I had started my woman’s bleeding the same eve. Following mother’s advice, I cut some linen from the curtains, picked up a needle and thread from her sewing box and began creating some underwear of which I could dispose of when needed. I hadn’t quite obtained her domestic abilities. Occasionally I would pierce my finger as I attempted to force the thread through the needle’s eye. The wavering candlelight was of little use also, hot wax brandishing my knees as I carelessly ignored the diminishing wick.
The second eve after her death, a coachman had arrived to deliver me to my father’s property. I retrieved three items from my bedroom before leaving: my mother’s pendant, sewing box and some sheets of linen that I had already cut in preparation. In a form of mockery, my modest suitcase became swallowed by the vast expanse of the carriage. The interior of the carriage itself was quite lavish. Crimson velvet curtains adorned the windows with twin crimson leather seats reminding me just how contrasting my fathers social standing is compared to mine.
After a prolonged, dreary journey, the coachman drew up to an overgrown country estate. Moss crept up and ate away at the cobbled stone walls whilst I also took note of some peculiar moth-eaten windows that had become eaten by time. I daren’t step closer to the door when I suddenly became aware that the carriage had disappeared from my view. I was alone now, left with no company but the father who had left me many years ago. No company but the dollmaker.
To my surprise the first couple of nights at my father’s made me feel very welcome. What we lacked in conversation he made up in hospitality, bringing tea and chocolate liquors up to my new bed chamber. Despite his decades of experience, he appeared youthful in looks. A cravat, in similar crimson to the carriage, adorned his neck and golden wavy locks framed his sharp jaw. When we did speak, I found myself closing my eyes in hopes that it will make my hearing more acute so I could decipher his heavy Dutch accent. He was originally from Holland and had moved to England when I was a babe. This cultural divide made even more apparent just how different myself and father were. His acquainted sense of luxury soon began to creep into my way of life. Father begun stitching me dresses of the highest quality, with hems lined of lace and satin ribbons which enveloped the waist. There was one condition however- ‘You are not to follow me into my workshop under any circumstances’. Father blamed this on the expense of the commissions he would create, emphasizing his fears of the damage I may cause if I mishandled them. ‘They’re of high value, specifically tailored to my clients, such details that can only be captured by these wise hands’. Steadily nodding, I agreed to my father’s conditions and, after washing my cutlery retreated up along the staircase to my room. I locked the door, undone the ribbon of my dress and put on my nightgown. I slept.
The next morn I awoke to damp sheets that clung to my legs. With a heavy sigh I became aware of tightening knot in my stomach which grew more intense as I lifted the sheets of my bed to reveal the blood-soaked fabric below. Fumbling my way to the cabinet, eyes still dazed after a night’s sleep, I reached out for the drawer handle and pulled. Much to my surprise, the linen that I had cut prior to moving in was no where in sight. Undoubtably I must’ve misplaced it so continued to search through the remaining cabinet drawers. All were empty, my sense of bewilderment grew as the pine smirked back at me. My heart dropped as I then realised my mother’s pendant and her sewing box were missing also. Despite promising my father not to go near his workspace, I reassured myself that if I explained the necessity of my situation, he would be understanding and let me borrow some of his materials. After all, the custom at which he greeted me with had inclined me of good intentions. Coming to this resolution, I buttoned up my nightrobe over my stained gown and lit a candlelight. A shiver of trepidation then tickled my spine as I began my journey down the staircase towards the cellar.
With every step that drew nearer to the workshop, the knot in my stomach begun to coil even further. As if an invisible hand clenched my throat, it grew tight and my gasps for breath became more frequent and more shallow. What would father do if he saw me lurking in his workspace at this time of morning? Growing hesitant, I stopped towards the basement door and pondered about returning to my bed chamber. It was at this moment when I became aware of a trickling sensation down my inner thigh. A sense of embarrassment engulfed me. Refusing to look down at my thighs, I briskly brushed my inner leg with my sleeve. I desperately needed that linen….
In a tentative manner, I lifted the latch up from the cellar door and trembled as the hinges begun to creak. I could feel sweat slithering down my brow as I begun to push the door open and was now reminded of the sense of fear which grasped my throat. After several more squawks from the door, I had pushed it fully open. Lifting my candlelight out into the room, it’s dark corners became illuminated. It was here when I realised that bordering every wall were rows of little dolls. Some had their hair platted whilst others wore intricate dresses made in the satin which I could only assume is the same type that father had used to stitch my dresses. Such detailed work, it was no wonder my father had so many clients. Remembering my initial intention, I began my search for the linen which had been taken from my room. In the centre of the room was a dark oak workbench, with needles and pin cushions strewn across the surface. Below where rows of drawers, of which I felt certain would contain some fabric that I could borrow. Slowly, I approached them and was just about to pull one open when a sudden putrid smell infiltrated my nostrils. A smell likened to that of expired meat at a butchers stall. It became so overwhelming in fact that I hastily covered my nose with my nightrobe and turned to make a swift exit out of the room. As a result, I carelessly dropped my lantern and tripped over, falling in a heap onto the floorboards below.
Upon opening my eyes, the knot in my stomach became so heavy that it felt like it was pinning me to the ground. Despite my best efforts to regain my footing, my legs fumbled below, and I was once again confronted by the putrid scent of decay. It was then when amidst my panic, I had knocked a floorboard loose from beneath. The sight that met me next would forever scar my heart. Amidst the shadows in the space below, I could distinguish the bodies of several young girls, some stripped naked, drowned in blood, one upon another. My palm raced to my mouth as I attempted to withhold a scream. Just as I thought the image couldn’t be any more sickening, I realised the fabric which made up both mine and the dolls dresses was adorned upon the corpses of the poor girls. It wasn’t ripped but instead appeared cut which could only leave me with the horrifying thought of the perpetrator, my father, trimming the satin as his victims lay lifelessly upon his work bench. Frozen in terror I begun to weep at the sight of these hapless girls. Eerily, they appeared similar in age to me so the idea that my father could make me feel so welcomed left me all the more confused and terrified. Daring not to look at them any longer, I once again attempted to stand up and leave the dreadful lair. Unsure if my father was near, I felt too fearful to behave cautiously, the image of the girls circling my mind. Just as I had lifted myself from the floor, I was about to rush out the room when in spite of the darkness a twinkle caught my eye. Turning my head in its direction, I was confronted with the sight of a petite doll, hair in braids, half sewn. I couldn’t ignore the uncanny resemblance it shared with myself and I was almost certain that the dress it wore was of the same fabric of the dress my father had made for me from his victims. Beside the creation lay my mother’s sewing box and surrounding it’s neck was the horrifying detail of her locket. At this moment, the lump in my throat transformed into a wail. It scratched at my throat, salty tears burning the tip of my tongue.
To my horror, the sound of slow dull footsteps became prevalent - he must’ve heard my cries. In desperate search of some form of defence, I grabbed a needle from my mothers pincushion and firmed my grip. Then, after a deep breath, I swung back the screeching door and ran, with needle in hand up the stairs out of the basement. Here is where I would confront my father, there was no other way out. The further I raced up the stairs, the louder and more frequent his footsteps became. It must’ve been after I reached halfway up when the broad shadow of the dollmaker halted me in my panic. ‘Rotten!’ he shrieked, the roar of his voice echoing along the walls, ‘you rotten child!’ In outrage, he swiped at my neck as a beast would to its prey. Swiftly ducking to avoid it, a sense of courage flurried through my body and my fingers seized upon the needle in my hand. Letting out a scream of exasperation, I forced it into his eye, the tip penetrating the socket as blood began to trickle down my knuckles. Crying in agony, he flung himself backwards upon the staircase and fell. With little hesitation, I then hurried up the remaining stairs, up along the corridor and forced open the great foreboding doors that had first greeted me when moving in. The chill of the winters breeze awakened me as I continued my escape out of the demon’s lair away from the mansion. Away from the dollmaker’s house…