03 Aug Fae House
“Fae House”Written by M.M. Kelley Edited by N.M. Brown Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 17 minutes
My great aunt Mildred absolutely adored yard sales. That woman could haggle a tortoise from its shell. I tagged along a lot because she kept me while my parents were at work. She’d let me pick random junk, and she was an expert haggler when it came down to something actually worth getting.
I can play back the whole day that we got the dollhouse. It was in an older development. All of the houses were tan brick with one floor, no basements and single car garages with driveways leading to them. We had visited a lot of yard sales in the neighborhood before. My aunt flipped through old records and inspected old dolls. I rummaged through their opened garage. In the back corner, I found a purple dollhouse. Tall and slender, with a black wooden roof and lavender siding. It had three floors, a front and back porch and was absolutely furnished with tiny furniture that looked like it was fashioned by a master craftsman with bits of sticks and furs. I drug her over to show her my find.
“Dollhouses aren’t for boys,” she sighed at me, “Your father will kill me if I buy that for you.”
“I don’t have to use dolls in it.”
She wiggled it around, peering in the little windows and trying to open the small exterior doors. I watched her inspection, full of hope. I bounced in anticipation. She tried to hold her poker face, but I knew her better than that.
“I suppose keeping it at my house would be alright,” she argued to herself, “and it is beautiful.”
She picked it up and lugged it to the woman Manning the cash box.
“Mmm…” the lady looked it over, deep in thought. “I suppose I’d take two hundred dollars for it.”
My aunt choked on air and gave the woman a side-eye that could cut through a steel plate. She sat the house down on the folding table the lady was sitting at and gave me a tap on the shoulder. I followed her back down the driveway to her car.
“Hold on!” the lady shouted down her yard to us.
My aunt turned around and tilted her head up in a silent “Yes?”
“I’ll take seventy-five dollars for it,” she sighed.
“I’ll give you forty and not a penny over,” my aunt countered.
The woman begrudgingly accepted the offer, but she seemed a little too happy for someone who just got a small piece of her asking price. She even carried it to the car and carefully buckled it into the back seat. I kept poking and peering in the windows during the ride home. It was absolutely fascinating to me.
Once we got it home, Aunt Mildred was equally enthralled with the tiny details of the home. Its craftsmanship topped any dollhouse I’d ever seen. My childish mind thought maybe it was a real home, just shrunk down to doll size. We couldn’t get it to open, though. It didn’t bisect. The doors and windows would jiggle but not open. Uncle Wayne prodded and tried to pry the doors open with a flat head screwdriver.
“You’ll marr the detailing!” Aunt Mildred moaned.
“I’m being careful,” he replied calmly, squinting and inspecting the small door, “You know…”
“What?” Mildred asked, trying to look over his shoulder.
“Well…ehhh… ” he mumbled as he started to scrape at the small gap between the door and doorframe, knocking off the old paint.
“I said don’t marr the details!” Mildred shrieked. “That’s what gives it so much character!”
“It’s fine,” he said dismissively, “the door and the frame are welded shut.”
“Dollhouses aren’t welded shut, and they certainly aren’t metal,” Mildred said with a dismissive tone of her own.
He pulled a magnet from his toolbox, and it slammed itself to the house with a hollow THUNK! Aunt Mildred was not impressed.
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“At least it’s probably worth more in scrap than what you paid.” Wayne offered.
“Why would you scrap something that’s this beautiful?”
“Well, for starters, it’s sealed up and not much good for anything other than looking at.”
“Wade can use his imagination to find more uses for it,” she said matter of factly.
“Second of all,” Wayne continued unphased, “the doll that’s at the kitchen table is creepy as all get out.”
“What doll?” Mildred and I exclaimed, pushing Wayne out of the way and shoving our eyes up to the small glass windows.
Sure enough, sitting at the table was a rail-thin male doll. Just like the house, he had every detail that you could imagine. His clothes were bright and vivid. His face has every detail down to nostrils and teeth. He had a small nose that came to a slightly upward point.
“Wade,” Aunt Mildred called from next to me, “Did you notice the doll or the meal at the table before?”
I shook my head no.
“I wonder how we missed it.”
Even now, I know I never saw that doll anywhere in there during the ride home. He was just there and never left. It should have been a red flag, but instead, it captivated our imaginations. What other secrets were hidden away inside of the purple shell?
That night over dinner, we discussed how we could get into it.
“I thought you were concerned with destroying a lovely piece of craftsmanship.” Wayne pointed out between forks of kielbasa.
“But think of the possibilities!” my Aunt said dreamily.
“It could even have money inside!” I mused with ideas of video games and pizza.
“I guess if I used a hand tool with a fine grinding wheel, it wouldn’t be a big deal to work the welds away.” Wayne conceded, a little curious himself.
After dinner, we went to inspect it again and for Wayne to form a plan of attack. Busting open the front door wasn’t worth the effort; it was too small. Pulling and tugging didn’t reveal any obvious weak points. It was built like a brick house.
Then I noticed two of the corners were different from the other two. One was slightly bulbous and the other much flatter than the other two: a hinge and a welded edge. Wayne went through multiple grinding wheels that night on his little hand tool.
“In the morning, I’ll run to the hardware store and get something sturdier,” he commented as he gave up for the night.
That night, as I was drifting off, a sickly emerald light diffused out of the little windows. A man’s silhouette projected out of the windows like an old movie projector. I crept out of bed and peered into the windows. I started to gasp but held my breath and covered my mouth.
The doll was walking around! He shuffled weakly through the kitchenette, digging through cabinets. He flipped through tiny books, and his shoulders heaved with the boredom of familiarity. He looked up from his book, and our eyes met.
He approached the window with the caution of a sick animal. The palm he pressed to the tiny glass pain was wrinkly up close. I put my pointer finger up to his hand in solidarity. His jaws moved like he was speaking, but his words were muted. In an attempt to hear, I leaned in close and held my breath. Silent words fell upon deaf ears.
I must have fallen asleep shortly after that. It frankly felt like a dream. I still told Aunt Mildred after I woke up considerably later than usual.
“You must have been worn out!” she exclaimed as my groggy body navigated the staircase.
“I watched the dollhouse a lot,” I admitted.
“Did you see anything good, at least?” she asked, her voice tinged with annoyance.
“There’s this weird green light, and I saw the doll moving around.”
She put her hand to my forehead and waited a moment. “Hm. No fever…” she thought aloud, “I think you dreamed more than you watched, dear.”
“He was trying to talk to me, but he couldn’t!” I insisted, “He even put his hand up to the widow, and I put my finger on it!”
“Let’s get you some breakfast,” she said as she ushered me into the kitchen, “When Uncle Wayne gets back and breaks through the welds, you’ll see it’s just a plain old doll.”
The weld on the edge went, then we found more along the roofline. They had even welded the seam on the underside. We sanded the paint on the hinge away and sprayed it gently with lubricant.
Mildred took one corner while Wayne took the other. As they pulled and grunted, it cracked and slid open with the screech of metal on metal. A dim green light flashed as an earthy musk rolled out of the house.
The doll was gone. Every tiny cabinet worked—every drawer. The books even had tiny illegible scrawlings on each page. It was truly a masterpiece. I played with it using every toy I owned.
My aunt concluded that the doll must have been some kind of optical illusion with the windows. I bought it back then. My adolescent mind could not yet think critically. It sounded good, and that was good enough.
I stayed up that night. I tried to sleep, but I had to know if I was crazy. No green light came from the dollhouse. So, I nestled myself between the opened halves of the dollhouse and inspected every inch. There was no ambulatory doll, either. I checked it all again, hoping to find any evidence that he had been there.
There was a groan behind me, like a tree branch bowing under the weight of sudden wet snow. I turned, thinking the noise was the door to the guest room. A figure loomed and greeted me with a smile. My eyes were so close to its teeth that I could see rings, one of the front teeth had a wood knot dead center.
It was the doll, but now he was the size of a man. Dusty red locks of yarn hung from his head. His body creaked like an old wooden floor as he raised a hushing finger to his lips.
“You freed me, aye?”
All I could do was shrug, trying to find any words: questions, answers, a screech. Before I could, he crumpled into the floor and was gone without a trace. My aunt came in to my bewildered face.
“Th-the doll,” I stammered, “he was big.”
“What are you talking about?” She asked incredulously.
I stumbled over my words incoherently, desperately trying to explain the doll was real.
“No,” she interrupted my babble, “You need to go to sleep. It was all a bad dream.”
Aunt Mildred put me back in bed with a hug and a kiss. I tried to fend off the sleep, but my eyelids grew heavier and heavier. I tried to hold them open as I heard the low, heavy groan of flexing wood. The tall man leaned over my bed. The noises that came from his mouth were gibberish to my ears, but his expression was joyous.
When I woke up, there was an earthy musk around me. It was as if I had been out rolling in wood chips and soil. The smell stalked me, persisting through showers, the over-chlorinated swimming pools that we frequented in the summer and multiple romps through streams. The whole summer, it felt like I had someone with me at all times.
Sinister whispers filled any void of silence that I could get. I was old enough to know that if I told them I heard voices, they wouldn’t react kindly. The closer I got to the woods, the louder the whispers were.
“What do you desire?.” it whispered in my ear as I tried to sleep, head sandwiched between pillows.
From then on, it was a clear voice. Sometimes other noises nearly drown it out. The inflection changed from time to time, as did the content, from a question to a taunt, sometimes I would even catch it laughing a hearty belly laugh at an unheard joke. I tried to ignore it. Voices had to come from somewhere, and this one certainly lacked a body.
“Be it coin that you need?” it whispered into the room where I was playing in a voice so light if anyone else had been near, it would have been imperceivable.
I steeled myself against acknowledging it, the sound of its voice twisting my guts into cramped ropes. I busied myself with legos.
After a time without a response, it tried again, “Trinkets? Baubles?”
My abstinence from the conversation forced it to dig deeper, “Is it wine you thirst for? The finest tobacco to fill your lungs?”
Even to my young mind, the offer of alcohol and tobacco was so absurd that I couldn’t help but laugh a little. That minute acknowledgment only encouraged it.
“Will it be luck with the womenfolk? Or is your fancy to be the desire of men?” it sneered with devious delight.
As a thirty-five-year-old man, I can still feel how my cheeks burned at the awkward, too personal inquiry. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I’d chosen to be lucky with love. Still, I remained silent. The room was silent like it was digging deeper, searching for an offer I couldn’t refuse. I decided to go find Aunt Mildred. The voice left me alone when other people were nearby. To my surprise, the playroom door was closed. I absolutely never closed the door behind me, especially if I was going to be in the room. The familiar cold brass of the doorknob was missing. The door and knob were all one piece of wood.
“Perhaps an exit would suit you, friend?” the voice said hopefully.
Determined to ignore it, I jerked and shook the doorknob to no avail. As if it were solid with the frame and wall, it didn’t bow, shake or rattle.
“I know ye can hear me, lad.” it said with a chuckle, “I’d like to reward ya for getting me out of that forsaken prison.”
I squeezed my eyes tight and took a breath. I turned and stomped across the room in frustration. It took all of my might, but the old wood-framed window scooted up, the paint in the groove giving its all to thwart me.
“Clever you are!” it exclaimed, “But you laughed at my joke, and I know you saw me in that playhouse.”
I paused halfway through the window, chilled and dumbfounded in the hot summer air. Was there some kind of ghost, or worse yet, demon, trapped in that old dollhouse? Was that why the woman was getting rid of it? I knew I had to drag Aunt Mildred into this. The fall from the window onto the wooden porch was pretty much nonexistent. I circled around through the front door and found my aunt sitting at the dining room table.
“Auntie M,” I called with an unease crack of my voice, “Are ghosts real?”
Mildred was certainly a third grandmother and came close to being a second parent to me in her own right. She knew something was amiss.
“I think they’re just stories,” she said with a squint and wrinkle of her brow, “Just for fun. Some people like scary things.”
I bit my lip and stared at the floor, a lump in my throat stopping me from elaborating. Mildred read that, too.
“They could be, though,” she said with fake uncertainty, “There are all kinds of things we have a hard time understanding. Did you see a television program about a ghost?”
“Well, I was playing with the dollhouse and–“
“Don’t do it.” the voice growled.
I felt the color drain from my cheeks and the knot in my stomach tighten.
“Well, you were playing with the dollhouse, and?” Mildred probed, the furrows on her brow growing deeper.
Mildred’s gentle tone and demeanor comforted me like a warm blanket in frigid winter.
“Before Wayne opened it, I was looking inside, and there was–“
“Boy!” the voice snapped, “Do not speak of me! You will pay a steeper price than your tiny mind can comprehend, I promise you that.”
The voice echoed in my mind, unimaginably gory and grotesque possibilities flashing through my head channels being flipped on a television. My stomach cramped, and I doubled over, dry heaving a payload that wouldn’t come. Aunt Mildred’s puzzled eyes gave me strength.
I crept towards her and whispered as if he couldn’t hear, “Can’t you hear him?”
“Hear who, baby?”
“The wooden man from the dollhouse,” I whispered, the mere phrase lingering on my taste buds like an infection.
“You mean that old wooden doll that was locked inside?”
“I think he was living there–“
“I said, DO. NOT. SPEAK. OF. ME.” the voice growled.
I clammed up and cowered in the protective embrace of my still puzzled aunt. She shushed me and rubbed my back.
“We can get rid of that doll if it’s bothering you,” she suggested.
She walked me to the playroom without saying a word. The door opened like it was brand new. The window I escaped through was closed and latched. Alone on the table sat the dollhouse, opened at the hinge with its contents on display. Much to my shock, the furniture of every little room was empty.
“Where did he go?” I stammered, “He should have been in the kitchen, sitting at the table.”
“I’m sure you just misplaced it,” Mildred assured me with her hand on my shoulder, “We’ll find it and donate it.”
“But then he’ll be mean to another kid!” I blurted.
Words cannot convey the weight that was lifted by vomiting that simple sentence to another human being. Even as a kid, I knew she didn’t believe me. Mildred was looking around uncomfortably, looking for the right words, scrounging for the root of the thought that an inanimate doll could be anything other than a doll.
“The doll is being mean to you?” she clarified.
“I guess he mostly bugs me, but he locked me in the playroom just now, and I had to climb out of the window and–“
“The playroom door is wide open right now, sweetie,” she said, pointing over my shoulder at the ajar door.
I stammered, trying to make sense of it out loud.
“I think you’ll feel better after a nap,” she assured me.
“No, I’m not tired. The door wouldn’t even wiggle!” I protested.
“Let’s park those shoes, and you’ll feel better after you wake up, I promise.”
I begrudgingly let her walk me into her sewing room and laid down for a nap on the bottom bunk. She closed the door to a sliver. I curled up under the heavy handmade quilt and settled into the soft mattress and welcoming pillow. Every time my eyelids grew heavy and started to shut, the sounds of a silent house settling jarred me back awake. I wanted to believe Mildred, and I tried my damndest to ignore the creaking that neared the cracked door. I stared at the sliver of light, waiting for a body to block the light coming in.
No one came through the door, but the next creak was in the walls and ceiling of the room. I clutched the quilt and tried to force myself to sleep to avoid it. The wooden bedframe let out a long, low-pitched creak that jarred my eyes open while leaving my body paralyzed in bed.
“Aye, so how about that favor I was offerin’ you?” the voice asked calmly, its words quiet yet seemingly vibrating the bed frame.
I squeezed my eyes shut tight and tried to tune it out.
“Not so talkative without your aintin? Aye, I can see that being such a twerp.”
A hard wooden arm stopped me from rolling off of the bed and making a run for it. My attempt to scream was muffled by a smooth wooden hand over my mouth. An oblong shape stretched from the wooden struts that supported the upper bunk. The tighter the grain stretched, the more pronounced its facial contours and topography became. A pine needle mustache brushed against my nose as he spoke.
“What, my dear boy, do you desire?” he demanded in a low tone that smelled of fresh sawdust.
I shook my head back and forth and tried to roll away again. This time the resistance was met with a hard hand to my small throat.
“I suppose that man would be suitable, too.” he mused, “I know what he wants, but it won’t be good for you. He’s a nasty thing, really.”
I stopped and stared into his white, empty eyes.
“Wayne?” I whispered, baffled by his words.
He grinned, his mouth full of dark mahogany teeth. “Oh, ho ho. Is that his name? You don’t know about his… hobbies?”
The bargaining felt more like swindling, but the devious prodding about Wayne felt honest for some reason. He always came across as weird to me. Did he hate me? Did he hate Mildred?
“I can ask for anything?” I whispered into his hand.
“Aye, to be completely free, we need an exchange,” he said as he slid his hand away from my mouth.
“You get something, and I get something.”
“Did you get your part already?”
“Ah, don’t worry your little head about me. We can shore that up later. I want this to be a good deal for you!”
His affect was calm, but his presence felt predatory. I hoped and prayed someone would find me. My eyes wandered over to the sliver of light that cut through the room through the cracked door. A body interrupted the light, and hope must have filled my eyes.
“I will not be interrupted!” the man from the dollhouse roared, sharply swinging his arm palm from my mouth towards the door.
The door landed in the frame with enough force to shake the entire house. Muffled yelling and pounding at the unwavering door crept through the walls as he glared down at me. He released my neck and used both hands to pull his form forth from the wood. He groaned as the wood cracked and creaked as the grain stretched. His legs and torso began to emerge from seemingly nothing. I rolled off the bed and under Mildred’s sewing table.
“There’s nowhere to hide, lad.” he moaned as he continued to substantiate his body, “We’re going to shore this up. I have centuries of imprisonment to make up for.”
We could see each other, his eyes burned a dark yellow, and he grinned. I rummaged through the storage compartment and hid an old black pair of scissors that she kept. I prayed for the first time in my life. I prayed with my heart and desperation that he didn’t see my only chance to defend myself. I curled in as far under the table as I could and waited, a white knuckle grip above the finger holes and nestled between my body and the wall.
My heart stopped momentarily when his hand hit the floor. The other hand slowly followed, slow and deliberate. The gravity and intention behind his stiff and purposeful movements acted as a series of red flags and alarms to vacate. I gripped the old, bumpy scissors so tight my hand shook. It took him two steps to get from the bed to the sewing table. My heart went from pounding in my ears to barely moving. I held my breath and steeled my resolve to kill if he came for me.
The room was silent except for the rare thump of my heart. I stared at his bare feet, striped with the grain of the wood, crowned by a nail colored a yellow I’ve only seen from pus. Time stood still. I was hyper-focused on the small opening he would come through. He didn’t wiggle or fidget. The legs were as still as table legs.
My focus was shattered by the soft sound of a single twig snapping underfoot behind me. I jerked around, and his face was shoved against mine, protruding from the wood panel. I tried to scoot back into the room, but his legs stood wrong like stone pillars.
He howled a triumphant laugh before taunting, “Ah, nowhere to run, shall we speak business now?”
I had to do it. I silently psyched myself up. I slammed the black-bladed scissors into his left eye. The noise he made was somewhere in the intersection of a laugh, scream and an enraged roar. His wooden face split into several places radiating out from the wound, and a dull green light filled the cubby, leaking from the voids. His hands burst from the sides of the sewing desk, and I started kicking at his pained face as hard as fast as I could, trying to escape the prison his legs had formed. My haphazard kicks shoved the scissors further in.
His knees buckled, and I scooted across the old napped carpet and into the room. Suddenly I could hear Wayne and Mildred banging on the door, and it was starting to wiggle and flex against their force now. The wooden man was still in pursuit, his pained moans filling the room as he dragged his body from under the sewing table. I scrambled to my feet and ran for the door. I twisted the lock on the knob, Wayne and Mildred spilled in. They started to give me the what for, but then their words were silenced by the sight of the monstrosity on the floor with scissors hanging out of its face.
“Is that the wooden man?” Mildred asked quietly.
I nodded, sheltering behind her. “Yes! I told you he was real!”
“You’ll never be rid of me until you make that deal, boy.” he creaked, the strange lime-colored light leaking from his mouth as it moved.
“Wayne, get the dollhouse,” Mildred quietly commanded. “It can go out the way it came.”
He ran for it, no questions or second-guessing. Mildred stood above the thing as it tried to claw its way towards me. She shoved the scissors in until the handles hugged his eye socket and scowled at him with disapproval. Wayne stumbled back in with the heavy playhouse. Mildred sharply pointed at the space in front of the wooden man, and he threw it down with a thunk.
“Get back in your cage,” she growled.
The cold iron being near him seemed to take more of his spunk away from him, but he still laughed.
“There’s not a chance you’re getting me back in that prison, ye hag.”
Mildred went to kick the scissors again but found his gripping her ankle midair. Her expression went from surprised to wailing in pain as the crunch of bone filled the room. Arms and legs sprouted from his torso like a centipede and he scuttled towards me, letting Mildred fall towards the floor.
Wayne charged in, but one of the arms jutted out and snagged his neck, leaving him swinging like a ragdoll. His mouth smelled like rotting wood and carcass this time.
“This is the last chance,” he growled, his amusement a distant memory, “Either I get what I need, or your precious family will perish in this room, and I haunt you until the end of your days.”
“What do you need?” I stammered.
“Your soul has to replace mine for the sake of that forsaken box you cut open.”
“But you’re out of it. You’re free to go!” I pleaded, tears burning my young eyes.
“Aye, I am outside of it, but alas I am still bound to it by magic. I cannot interfere. You get what you want. Then per the ancient writ o’ law of my people, I may harvest your soul and be free. You’re saving two people you love and helping a stranger just by spending some time in a playhouse. Maybe they could even find someone to replace you one day!”
My breathing spiraled out of control. My aunt was trying to get up but was wheezing with pain. My uncle hung in the air, clawing and fighting to get free while fruitlessly gasping for air. Then a moment of clarity. A hole in the game.
“I can have anything?” I asked, coughing up snot.
His good eye lit up, the light from his wounds and mouth burned brighter. “Absolutely. No questions asked. You even get to enjoy it for a bit before I take what is mine.”
“I want you back in the playhouse.”
He was infuriated, he tried to lunge at me, but the thick green light left his body in a smoky cloud. It sucked into the dollhouse-like steam into the vent above the stove. Wayne was fine, if not terrified and bruised on his neck. He started to go to call an ambulance, but Mildred stopped him.
“Weld it shut first.” she ordered with no uncertainty, “I can wait.”
He dragged the dollhouse back to the garage, the windows all obscured by the green, glowing mist. He welded the back along the broken beads and welded the hinges into solid pieces. After Mildred’s leg was set and in a cast, we rode with him to a new development they were building nearby. The entire ride, the wooden man banged on the doors and windows of his prison, cursing and threatening us.
Wayne buried his prison in a plot that was measured out and had forms set for concrete. We drove by the next morning to see a concrete truck pouring a new foundation over him.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableM.M. Kelley Edited by N.M. Brown Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A