I finally wrote a story for Sacha Black’s prompt, the rather creepy Doll Island theme.
The agent cut the motor and helped her out of the dinghy. John jumped out behind her, and the agent tied up the little boat. There were no other boats on the jetty. She gazed at the woodland ahead, the placid brilliance of the lake behind her, and sighed deeply.
“Gorgeous, isn’t it?” The estate agent smiled with all his teeth.
“I can hardly believe we’re really doing this,” she said, her voice drifting on the breeze, and her fingers reached out for John’s hand.
“A dream come true,” he echoed.
“Let me show you the property,” the estate agent said, setting off along the ride lined with beech trees. The alley ended in a meadow that looked as though it had once been a tended lawn. Here and there, flowering shrubs cascaded wildly from the confines of what had once been strict beds. The agent put down his briefcase carefully in the grass and waved one arm from horizon to horizon.
“The property stretches from the wall over there to the right, and as far as the wall you can just see through the trees to the left. This is where the architect has planned the house. The garden will run down to the beech wood and the driveway, and from the first floor you’ll have an unobstructed view of the lake.”
“Wouldn’t it be more logical to put the house up there, at the highest point?” John pointed to the top of the rising ground. “We could see the lake from the ground floor too then, have a terrace looking right down on it.”
A faint look of unease flitted across the estate agent’s face before it was replaced by a smile. He shook his head. “Land’s not been cleared there yet. You’d have to wait until the…investigations were over to start building. Could be a while, and in any case, that section of the property hasn’t been checked for seismic activity, subsidence, flooding—”
“Flooding?” John raised an eyebrow.
The agent grinned. “I admit, it’s not an obvious problem, but you know, the regulations.”
“Can we look?” she asked, already moving up the hill.
“Certainly,” the agent hurried to catch her up. “But there’s nothing to see.”
There wasn’t much left of the building, just the foundations, cellars, some of the retaining walls and a lot of charred timber. John whistled.
“Must have been quite a fire.”
“Terrible,” the agent agreed. “The architect has prepared plans for this section too. Gardens and a summer house.”
The estate agent smiled evasively and shrugged. “Nobody knows. And nobody…survived to give any clues.”
“That’s why the investigation is still going on?”
“I expect it’s just a formality now.” The estate agent opened his briefcase. “I have the plans here, if you’d like to have a look?”
She wandered off again, not wanting to stand still, just staring. Something in the air that she found oppressive made her fidgety. There was a low stone building, an outhouse of sorts, looked to be still intact. Poppies and cornflowers and various climbing plants grew up to the walls as if they’d been sown there. A little garden. Like the kind she had had when…She unlatched the door and it swung open. The room was bare stone walls and stone flagged floor. It was full of boxes. The sense of oppression increased, the air, heavy, full of vibrations. She listened. It was almost like voices. She took a step backwards. Looking over her shoulder, she saw John and the estate agent making their way towards her. It was their voices she had heard obviously. She stepped into the dark room and peered into the nearest of the boxes. She gave a gasp. John’s hand on her shoulder steadied her. The estate agent appeared at her side, his face white in the gloom.
“It’s probably not a good idea to—”
She interrupted him. “What’s all…this?” She swept a hand around the room and bent to open the box fully. “These?”
Dozens of dolls, some dressed, some not, all sizes, hair colours, all with fluttering eyelids and big glass eyes, gazed at her.
“The house, it was an orphanage. Didn’t you know?”
As the estate agent shepherded them out into the sunlight, she thought she heard the pattering of feet on stone flags, and a breath of laughter followed her down to the beech ride.