The Doll Lady is a scary tale for Halloween about a woman in a small village who makes dolls for children.
Iskra was the Doll Lady. Our village was small and we were not wealthy. We had fresh water and we had enough to eat, but we didn’t have much else. The boys in the village had a few wooden toys – carts, horses and soldiers carved by our fathers. But every little girl had a beautiful doll. Iskra made sure of it.
Iskra’s husband had been a farmer and the wealthiest man in the village until his heart gave out. Iskra had never given birth, but she loved the children of the village as if they were her own. On each girl’s sixth birthday, Iskra would present them with a beautiful doll. The dolls were of the best quality, purchased from a far-away town, and she lovingly made the clothes herself. The girls loved their dolls, and the loved Iskra. It had been that way for many years.
But it was not to stay that way.
On her sixth birthday, little Klavdiya received her doll. It had a green dress and big glass eyes. She took it with her everywhere, as most of the girls did. Scarcely a week after her birthday, we were playing in the fields when Klavdiya collapsed. We carried her back to her parents as fast as we could. The doctor came and said she had a powerful and dangerous fever. He was not wrong, for within a few days the fever claimed her life.
Before the news of her death broke, Klavdiya’s mother ran up to Iskra’s house and hurled the doll at the door. She screamed and wailed and shrieked. She said that it was the doll that had made her daughter ill, that Iskra had put a wicked curse on it. Iskra opened the door and began crying. She was so upset at the accusation.
Klavdiya’s mother was led away by her husband. All of the people in the village agreed that she was overcome with grief and had taken out her anger on Iskra. But I noticed that some of the adults were less friendly towards Iskra from then on, despite what they said to us.
A few months passed and my sister Nika’s birthday approached. Iskra had not been seen for a few days and when my sister’s birthday came, we knew why. Iskra presented her with the most beautiful doll I had ever seen. It had huge blue eyes and she had made an elaborate blue gown for it. It seemed as if Iskra wanted to allay the fears of the village and show that she was a good person. This doll, that she had spent so much time and effort on, was her way of proving it.
Exactly two weeks after her birthday, my sister Nika died of a fever. My father nearly went mad with grief. For two full days he sat indoors, just holding Nika’s doll and weeping. Then he went to see Iskra.
It was like watching Klavdiya’s mother all over again. My father shrieked and swore and spat at her. He smashed the doll against Iskra’s door and screamed that she was a witch, that she had cursed the dolls and made Nika die. Iskra wept and tried to protest her innocence. It fell on deaf ears. After a few minutes my father was dragged away by the doctor and Iskra went back into her house, just as before. This time, however, it did not end there.
One by one, the villagers came and put the dolls Iskra had given them on her doorstep. I remember seeing them all sitting there in a pile. Twenty years worth of gifts, all given back. We never saw Iskra take them inside, but they were gone the next day.
Iskra was never seen to leave her house again. I sometimes caught sight of her face in a window as she stared at the children playing outside. Her face had become pale and gaunt and her eyes were wide and red from crying. She looked like the very embodiment of madness. Eventually, we saw her face no more, and Iskra the Doll Lady was all but forgotten.
The years passed and I left the village. I sometimes thought of Iskra, with her staring red eyes, and felt sorry for her. I never really believed that she had hurt anyone. I thought it was all just a coincidence and that she had been unfairly accused by superstitious townsfolk searching for a scapegoat. I still believe that.
One summer, I received a letter from my father. The village well had dried up and the remaining people were abandoning the village to move to a nearby town. I went back to help my father move his things and to see the village one last time.
As we packed the last of his belongings into the cart, I looked over at Iskra’s house. There were holes in the roof and the windows were cracked and broken. I asked my father what had become of Iskra. He said he didn’t know and he didn’t care. She had not been seen since the day I watched her staring from the window, all those years ago.
Was Iskra dead? Did her body remain in the house, unburied? Nobody knew. I felt a strange sadness and loss. venE though the sun was setting and the light was fading, I set off towards Iskra’s house.
My father called for me to stop, saying that there was no point in going inside. I didn’t listen to him. I had to know what had happened to Iskra, perhaps even bury her remains if necessary. I felt in some way responsible, as if I should have spoken up in her defense when she was accused of causing the fever. But who would have listened to me back then? I was just a child.
The door to Iskra’s house opened with a firm push. It was quite dark inside. I could make out a layer of dust and cobwebs covering everything. There was a faint smell of rotting meat, but besides some chairs and a stove, there was nothing much of interest downstairs.
The smell became stronger as I climbed the stairs. I began to feel scared as I approached Iskra’s dust-covered bed. This was almost certainly where her remains were. She had fallen ill and died in bed, just as Klavdiya and Nika had one. I was sure of it.
But as I approached the bed, it became obvious that it was empty. The sheets were still folded neatly on top. There was no sign of Iskra. Perhaps she had left the village. Maybe she sneaked out one night when nobody was watching?
I turned to go back downstairs when I happened to notice the ladder leading up to the attic. I looked up and could see that the trap door was closed. I tested the ladder, which was still sturdy, and climbed up. The trapdoor opened easily.
The smell was much worse in the attic. The last rays of daylight were shining through a hole in the roof and as I looked around, my heart jumped. I could make out small faces, dotted around the attic! But after a moment I realized that they, of course, belonged to Iskra’s dolls.
All of the dolls that Iskra had ever made and given away were stored here. As I walked the room, I could see them clearly. The years had not been kind to them. They were cracked and damaged and their dresses were stained by the rain.
I was beginning to become scared. I took a few more steps into the room, and saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I turned, but there was nothing there. I took a step further and it happened again. Then I thought I heard a whispered voice and I became very frightened. I decided to leave the house and go back to my father.
I turned back towards the ladder and was startled to see Iskra standing in front of me. She was a rotting corpse with wide, staring red eyes. She screamed in my face, an unearthly screech that shook me to the core. I screamed and scrambled past her, down the ladder, down the stairs and out the door. As I ran from the house, I could hear a screeching, giggling laugh.
I ran back to the cart and my father asked me what had happened. I was nearly choking from fear and could barely talk. We left the village immediately and I didn’t look back. An hour later, I was still shaking, and an hour after that, I could still smell the stench of rotting flesh.
I eventually managed to tell my father what I had seen. He said that it was Iskra’s punishment for killing the children… to be trapped between life and death. I remain unconvinced. I heard the mad laughter that came from her desiccated skull. I wonder if, driven mad by the false accusations, she had cheated death in order to someday wreak revenge on those that had wronged her?
Or perhaps I am being as paranoid and foolish as those who accused her of giving away cursed toys all those years ago… All I know for sure is what I saw with my own eyes… a creature that should have long been dead, but was very much alive.
Now that I am grown and have children of my own, I don’t let them play with dolls.