“Dollhouse” – a short story by Craig Wallwork

spades-4-1I read this story for week 39 of the 2015 Deal Me In Challenge. I drew the four of spades, which I had assigned to this story from the excellent ‘Neo-Noir’ anthology “The New Black.” Deal Me In is an annual short story reading challenge (explained here). My list of stories I’m reading this year, with links to those I’ve posted about thus far, may be found here.

Holy crap; this was a scary and disturbing story!

“Fear never exploited Darcy’s mind, for as her father contested on many occasions, all things can be explained. The low thundering rumble that tore a hole in the night was not that of a monster pushing its way from one world to the next, but the nightly groans from the heifers keeping warm in the farmer’s bard across the field. The unexpected squeak of a floorboard was not the heels of a ghost, but instead the yawning of wood as it waned under the heat of water pipes. The illusory evil that supposedly cowered in shadows, or became the cold breath of night that followed her from room to room, was only a mischievous current of air that fussed its way around the dank old cottage.  All could be explained. Everything that is, except the dollhouse.”

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As kids grow up, they begin to learn the falsity of the boogey-man and his sundry companions.  Parents, as Darcy’s do in this story, vanquish these fears one by one with rational explanations until, one day, they are finally overcome and can no longer manifest themselves.  Of course, this holds true only if the fears really are imaginary

One night, Darcy, just a young girl of eight – almost nine, is awakened by a “large bang.”  Her investigations lead her to the attic of her family’s cottage.  Within the attic she sees that a large object is covered under a dust sheet in the corner of the room.  Knowing that, when it comes to secreting away Christmas or birthday presents, the attic is a favorite hiding place for her parents, and remembering that her birthday is just weeks away, Darcy can’t resist taking a peek. What she finds is a dollhouse that is a perfect miniature of her own family’s cottage.  Every detail is replicated.  She is enthralled and revisits the attic every night as her birthday approaches, since the dollhouse seems to also be a work in progress.  New developments in her actual cottage are reflected in the dollhouse. Tiny wooden figures of her parents and herself also appear, accurate to the smallest detail. Then the figures appear to begin reflecting the actual location of their real-life counterparts at the time she views them, and she sees her own figurine in the attic of the dollhouse, kneeling in front of a miniature dollhouse, which we can only imagine, were her eyes capable of seeing into the microscopic range, would contain smaller and smaller figures in an infinite regression.

Surely all this “could be explained” though?  Even when she, one night, finds the figurines of her parents in peril…

I really liked this story, even if it did give me goosebumps.  It was my first time reading this author, who hails from West Yorkshire, England.  He is the author of a short story collection “Quintessence of Dust” which I may now just have to find and buy to provide me with fodder for the 2016 edition of the Deal Me In Challenge.

What’s the scariest story YOU have read lately?

Below: from goodreads.com – author Craig Wallwork

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“How” a short story by Roxane Gay from “The New Black” anthology

Week 23 of Deal Me In 2015 brought me the four of hearts and with it this story by author Roxane Gay, who just happens to currently reside in Indiana, teaching at Purdue University. Last year – almost exactly a year ago – I read her story “North Country” for Deal Me In 2015, and earlier this year I also read her novel An Untamed State but never blogged about it. My roster of stories I’m reading in 2015 (with links to any posts I’ve written about them) may be found here if you’re interested.

“How” is the story of Hanna, a twin whose grown-up (at 27 years old) life has become populated with “usurpers.” She lives with a house full of them. Her unemployed husband, sister, brother in law and her father – a laid-off miner who never found work again and lives a drinking existence.

The story has an uncommon structure, but it was one I was able to rapidly fall into step with. Each titled section is an explanation of how certain components of Hanna’s life came to pass: (e.g. “How Hanna met and married Peter”, “How Red… Got his reputation”, “How these things came to pass,” etc.) Hanna, the only one in her household who works, holds down two jobs and has little time to herself, but takes that time that she does have to pose as a student at a local college, notching encounters with male students in a kind of diverting masquerade. She also explores a relationship with a lifelong friend, Laura, with whom she is plotting to escape her unfair life.

A quotation near the end of the story gives your pretty good idea of the type of existence Hanna has led:

The Twins stood before their father, their mother, their husbands. They stood in the house where they had grown up filled with broken people and broken things.”

So… it’s not a very cheery story (and I’m sure it’s not intended to be), but I enjoyed the style and the way Hanna interacted with the other characters, especially her twin sister, Anna (Of course her name is Anna!).

This is the third story I’ve read from The New Black, a “Neo-Noir” collection of stories. Both the others were excellent, one of them – Benjamin Percy’s “Dial Tone”   – being another Deal Me In 2015 pick. I learned of this anthology some time ago from Paula Cappa’s excellent blog.

What about you? Have you read anything by Roxane Gay? She may be best known for her essay collection “Bad Feminist,” which is on my list but hasn’t bubbled to the top yet. What are some of your favorite short story anthologies? (I’m always looking for stories for future years’ DMI rosters…) 🙂

Below : Author Roxane Gay