The Dollhouse Cafe
A Short fiction? by Cameron Brtnik
7.30.16 Gukeng, Yunlin
WARNING: This is 90% true
The doll…the goddamned doll….
Why the hell would there be a doll in a cafe in the first place? What happened to this place??
I walked in – a kind of unease came over me that you only feel in haunted houses (that’s what this place felt like – haunted): dusty, horribly weathered floorboards, dilapidated umbrellas lying carelessly on the floor (was there a storm in the cafe? Is that why everyone left??) and piles of random supplies – cups, receipts, flyers, garbage bags – were scattered everywhere. I let my curiosity get the better of me. It reminded me of the time I was about ten, swimming in the ocean in the beautiful waters of the Turks and Caicos, swimming out as far as I could, knowing there was a storm coming…
I continued on my exploration, documenting my surroundings as I went. Atop the dusty, worn, bar countertop there was an old model of a windmill resembling the still-standing one just outside the entrance, rusty coffee spoons, a chipped ceramic trumpet, and a dusty bottle of plum wine (which I put in my backpack. I figured it must’ve aged quite well). I took stock of my surroundings, looked around the room: a creepy sight, and what made it more so were all these signs that had these comforting mantras like Fall In Love With Coffee and Love Coffee, Love Yourself – the complete opposite of the feeling this cafe was giving me at the moment. This was not a place of love – this was a forgotten place, where any semblance of love had left years ago… This was more like a nightmare from the far-reaches of your darkest dreams….
There were piles of rubble strewn everywhere made up of trash, peoples’ belongings, a girls shoe?? (Yep, it was a child’s shoe, only one.) One room had a broken TV, DVD player and internet modem thrown on the floor haphazardly like the place had been looted by thieves, but they had left all the expensive electronics behind as if they were in rush to get out of there… Come to think of it, it seemed like everyone was in a rush when they left this place, nothing left in its original spot. I moved past a garbage bag exploding at the top and saw…I had to stop in my tracks. My heart was beating louder now – I was looking at what I was sure was a dead dog; it’s limp furry face facedown on the cold, dirty floor. It’s clean white fur looked a little too clean..so I used an umbrella and prodded it… Thank God – at times like this I am sure He does not exist – it was just a stuffed toy bear. I turned it over, peering into its black, button-like eyes, one of them dangling by a black thread barely hanging on to its pupil like an optic nerve, thanking God again it wasn’t a dead dog but rather some carnival prize left behind by a young boy (like he was in a rush…).
I moved behind the bar, where it looked like most of the tragedy happened (whatever “it” was). There were paper cups, newspapers, business cards, playing cards strewn everywhere. But something strange caught my eye, smack-dab at my feet…. (after seeing the stuffed bear I didn’t think I could take much more) – it was a Goddamned doll. Every stereotype from every horror movie ever made lay inches form my feet. I stood there, motionless, no longer sure if this was reality or a cheesy nightmare… It, like the bear, was lying facedown. I slowly bent to pick it up… I held it in my hand – I think I was checking to make sure it was real – turned it around, and felt my heart sink.. (it’s just a doll!) It’s hair, crusty and full of cobwebs; its head, so lightweight it felt limp in my hand, a styrofoam ball wrapped in cloth; its face, stained with coffee and dirt, had an almost forlorn quality to it like its owner, undoubtedly a young girl no older than 5 at the time, after loving and caring for it for years decided it wasn’t worth saving from the…(saving from the what??)… I turned it back over and discovered a windup handle attached to her back – another cliche, I know. I wound it up, and the slow trickling of a familiar melody..barely recognizable..too slow to piece together…twinkle..Twinkle Twinkle! It was like the forgotten doll struggled at the strenuous effort to spit out a single note of the children’s classic nursery rhyme (originally a French melody titled Ah, most people mistakingly believe Mozart to be the original composer). I placed it on the countertop and continued exploring, all whilst listening to the haunting melody.. twin-kle..twin–kle…li–ttle—star. Sifting through the trash on the floor, avoiding broken floorboards and potholes as I crept behind the bar. I kept walking into cobwebs, the size of which made me not want to imagine the size of the spider that spun them… Then I saw the most sickening image yet: amid the chaos that was the surface of the bar, next to a lady’s (fake?) sapphire necklace and dusty bottle of perfume, like an aroma from the past, there lay photos – frayed at the edges and faded from light, which gave the impression they were damaged in a fire – of a father and his child, a baby boy. I stared at them for a long while, imagining this father and his son the day the photos were taken (what happened to them? Why did they leave these, only these photos behind?? Again, it seemed like everyone was in a rush to leave this place…). Were they alive? If so, where were they now?? Why didn’t they return for their belongings? The stuffed bear? The doll? The photos??
All of a sudden I had a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach, and my inner voice (or is it our inner voice, shared by every human in times of danger, we call it instinct) said GET OUT OF HERE! I picked up the doll, stuffed it in my bag, and turned to leave…but didn’t move an inch. I felt light-headed for an instant, shook it off, then tried to leave again, but my feet wouldn’t budge… I started having a minor panic attack, like a blend of discovering you left the door open and the dog ran out, and the realization that you’re vulnerable, just a human living on a rock controlled by Mother Nature, a pitiful ant struggling everyday just to survive, and tried to shake that off too. I grabbed the edge of the counter to pull myself forward and one foot managed to come loose from – what?? There was only moldy floorboards beneath me, but it simply got stuck again. All of a sudden a sinkhole (in a wood floor?!) started opening up, and I heard a sound that didn’t quite compute at first, not in the secluded mountain region where this abandoned cafe was located: screaming. The screaming of a man, and the unmistakable cries of a young boy…and I started sinking. I was able to get both feet loose, but had to literally hang off the counter and edge my way along, lifting my feet off the ground to the exit of the bar. Just then a hand (WTF!!?) came out of the ominous sinkhole (was the hand attached to anything? It felt like it). It was small, but had the power of a fully-grown man yanking at my foot. I closed my eyes, squeezing them tight…all of a sudden I went back to that moment….
Out in the ocean, wanting to go further (always further, why do you always have to go further you idiot!), the storm on the horizon, and the fear that a great white shark would come out of the depths and snatch my foot….
….My sandal came loose in its hand – then I saw something and had an idea, a strange idea (though what was happening right now was strange – maybe desperate idea is a better way to describe it): to grab the stuffed bear and…I reached and grabbed it and threw it into the ever-widening hole…and the hand snatched it and disappeared…along with the hole….I was still holding onto the counter edge, gripping it in a death grip. I realized my knuckles were bleeding, but didn’t even wince. I was on my knees, missing a sandal, which I never saw again. I cautiously limped out the exit, wary of any potholes, and made it into the still-bright sunshine (I had lost track of time a while ago), blinding me momentarily, and headed for the fence I had hopped over not forty minutes earlier (right by a large DO NOT ENTER sign). I finally felt I was in the clear… I continued walking toward the main dirt road, if you can call it that, finally feeling a sense of relief and vowing, speaking to my inner voice again, never to disobey a DO NOT ENTER sign again. And all the while hearing a tring tringing tring sound (that’s the only way to describe it) coming from my backpack, which unnerved me because I completely forgot I had put that doll – that Goddamned doll – in my backpack.
Cameron is a fiction writer living in Taiwan, and lover of all things creepy cbrtnik.com