The day had begun like any other. Jane Thompson had woken to her gleaming alarm clock at 7:15 a.m., just like every day, even though she didn’t have to any more. Words like “downsizing” and “outsourcing” had seen to that.
Locking the front door of her suburban duplex behind her, she squinted at the bright October morning sunshine until she fumbled through her brown leather purse for her sunglasses.
With nowhere in particular to go, Jane had made a habit of taking a morning constitutional through the park, where she would nestle in on the same concrete bench, cappuccino in hand, to watch luckier, happier people pass back and forth, heading obliviously to jobs, wives, husbands, flings and children.
This morning, though, was different. In five months of her enforced sabbatical, this was the first time that the bench was occupied. A middle-aged woman was sipping from a stainless steel travel mug.
A creature of habit, Jane was caught between the desire to abandon her routine to avoid the inevitable and awkward exchanges that happen when sharing a seat with a stranger and her reluctance to having to find a new park to wile away the morning.
Nowhere near making up her mind, she turned and noticed that the stranger had vacated her seat and was halfway down the path heading out of the park.
Relieved, Jane sauntered over and filled her place, assuming an air of force nonchalance of a restaurant patron trying to pretend that they weren’t hovering around the room, just waiting for a free table to pounce on.
Then she noticed the purse. It was much like hers – drab and smelling vaguely of ebbing class – and was sitting on the gravel footing supporting the bench.
She looked up quickly, scanning the park for the owner, failed, and turned her attention to the contents of the bag itself.
To her mild surprise, the purse was nearly empty, save for a receipt for a steel travel mug and a single tea bag wrapper. Luckily, whoever the stranger was, she was accommodating enough to comply with that mysterious moment in the purchase process where the cashier casually asks for a postal code before telling you how much you owe her.
Three hours later, Jane was standing at the end of a lengthy cul-de-sac, staring at the last house on the lane.
Not so much a house, only barely structurally sound enough to be called a cottage, the dwelling was, she decided, unnerving. The mid-autumn breeze hadn’t been so bad in the city, or even at the end of the road where she started her door-to-door quest for the wayward park visitor, it now had the biting quality of fall, whipping the fiery leaves around her ankles and making her wish she’d chosen jeans instead of the skirt – it would have been casual Friday at work, after all.
She creaked the screen from loosely ajar to out of the way and knocked on the door.
There should at least have been noises of approach first, but the door swung silently open before Jane’s hand had fallen back to her side, and she was waist-to-face with a small, dishevelled child, holding a doll.
It was at the same time the most lifelike and grotesquely unrecognizable plaything Jane could have imagined, and it did nothing to improve the chill in the air.
“Come in, Jane,” said a voice from somewhere inside.
Without knowing why, Jane obeyed, and the child wordlessly thrust the doll-thing into her hand as she passed. It was more like leather than rubber, and was oddly warm.
Turning, she entered a small room, undecorated apart from six folding chairs, each motionlessly occupied. She knew them all. They were the bit players in her own life, unimportant in the plot, but vital to the character of the play as a whole: her barista, the receptionist at her salon.
Something was wrong. There was no recognition in their faces. There was nothing in their faces. Blank stares from empty eyes.
“We’ve been waiting for you.”
The voice came from the far end of the room. A tall figure was leaning over the mantle of what had once been a stately fireplace.
Jane felt as though she was being slowly filled with ice water, and it was all she could do to not break into a sprint as she fled the cabin and sped home, sweating despite the chill lingering in the air.
When she arrived home she realized that she still had the doll with her. Disgusted, she flung it into the corner and collapsed on her bed.
It started in the corner. Small. Dim. Soon the room was drowning in the cold, unrelenting light. Shadows were obliterated. Every nook and cranny was illuminated. With the light came silence. Thick, tangible, oppressive silence you could hear. Then it all began to fade, retreating, but not to the corner. Slowly, from the outside in, the ambient noise of a single woman’s apartment crept back into the room, and the light dissolved until the shaft creeping in through the venetian blinds was clearly visible once again, beating a path from the outside world to the bed, where a small dishevelled child was picking up what looked like a leather-wrapped doll dressed in a business casual skirt and blazer outfit from the bed.
Her prize collected, she helped the tall man up from his crumpled position in the corner and, ignoring the cold fire still lingering in his eyes, led him outside and back to the cabin.
- fromanidlemind posted this