In the House of the Crazy Dead, Group Captain Ian was fighting for his life. Johnny Shoxx and his army of zombies had smashed down the doors to the ballroom, and were battering their way in – and for zombies as big, bulky and ugly as they were, they sure moved quickly. Keeping his finger pressed down on the automatic fire button, Ian thumbed the command for rapid sweep, and –
“Ian!” As well as calling him, Dad gave the boy a quick, vigorous shake on the shoulder. “For the last time, stop playing that bloody game, will you? Look around you. You might learn something.”
“Yes, Dad.” No mistaking that tone of voice, Dad wasn’t happy. Ian put the Gamepocket back in his rucksack and folded his arms, glaring around him with a sniff. He could have got up to Level 5 that time, if Dad hadn’t have stopped him.
Bum. Ass-Hole. With an American accent.
“I don’t know, we paid to get in here, and all the time the boy’s got his head stuck in that computer game. He’s in a world of his own.”
“Well they’re not interested in this kind of stuff any more, are they? Everything’s got to be new, new, new.”
Ian had thought the Toy Museum had sounded like a great idea. All those weird and fantastic games and things from hundreds of years ago. But it was just boring. A few bits and pieces made out of wood and tin. Just lying there in a case. As if that was going to make them exciting – Doh! The seven-year-old scratched his big pink ears and swiveled around on his heels.
And then he saw the house.
“There you go, Ian! Now that’s what a real Doll’s House looks like.”
It was huge. The first thing Ian saw was the house-front; a huge slab of fake masonry painted in sugar-icing pink, that had been swung away from the main body of the building to expose the tableaux within.
That was a doll’s house? A doll’s house that big? It must have cost a fortune! Ian walked closer to look inside.
And there, to his delight, was a tableaux of five rooms and a hallway, decorated in warm, glowing Christmas-colours. There were so many details in the rooms it looked as if somebody had fired a miniaturizing ray-gun at a real house and shrunk it down to this size. And there were people in it. Well, not people but dolls. But not crybaby dolls. These dolls were wicked.
“Oh Phil? Look over there!”
Ian stared intently at the doll’s house as his parents wandered away. He could live in a house like that. Yeah. He felt really comfortable the more he thought about it. That house would be dead good to run about in.
Dad’s voice; “‘ A Child’s Garden of Verse,’ By Robert Louis Stevenson. Have you ever seen this before?”
Mum’s voice; “Robert Louis Stevenson. Didn’t he write ‘Treasure Island’?”
The notice on the side of the case read; ‘Victorian Doll’s House. Height 47 inches, width 41 inches, depth 14 inches. The front opens to reveal five rooms furnished with great care and attention to contemporary detail, and with great taste. The furniture is mostly early Duncan Phyfe, with the exception of the drawing room.
‘This house is generally known as the Faerie House. It is said that the donating family, who wished to remain anonymous, maintain that the house was built for the little spirit folk to live in.’ Ian read that bit twice. ‘A quaint tradition, which recalls the affair of the Cottingley Fairies…’
Ian’s eyes scanned the house, imagining where his toy soldiers would be hidden. They could jump out from anywhere, just like the baddies in “Time Massacre 4.” There was so much analog detail in the rooms, dark corners, bulky furniture, loads of places for monsters to hide…
“Look at the cover! That’s even the same cover as the one Nan gave to me when I was a boy. Here, let me show you this, it’s my favourite one in the book…”
The voices of his parents tuned in and out like a grown-up radio program. Ian set his soldiers moving. The house was his! He must protect it! He might blow it up a little bit while he was doing that, but he was the boss, so it didn’t matter!
He imagined two of his soldiers in the house, one upstairs, one downstairs. And a zombie, crashing in through the window in slow-motion shattering glass. Boom! The first soldier gets it in the arm.
What’s up? calls the second soldier, in the big bedroom.
I’m hit, shouts the first one, you gotta help me, you gotta help me. So the second soldier gets his Big Gun out.
“Ian? Did you say something?”
“Oh, he likes that house, doesn’t he? There you are, love, what did I tell you. Good old-fashioned stuff always appeals.”
“Oh, look, this is the poem I told you about. ‘The Unseen Playmate’. This scared the living daylights out of me when I was little.”
“Scared you? Oh, come on.”
“No, straight up, it did!”
Flicking his gaze from room to room, Ian noticed that not only were there dolls in each house, but they were all doing something. The cook was making dinner, in the primitive-looking kitchen. In the bathroom an old-fashioned maid was giving a baby a bath. A posh woman was playing the grand piano in the drawing room. But where’s the old man, thought Ian? Where’s the boss of the house?
Oh – there he was.
“Yeah, it really did. And I’ll tell you another thing that used to scare me. That poem about ‘The man who wasn’t there’. Do you know the one I mean? ‘When I was going up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.’ That gave me bad dreams, that did.”
“Oh, it didn’t!”
“Yes it did. Whoever is in that poem, he’s both there and not there, you know, both at the same time. I think that’s dead scary.”
“Well, I think it’s just daft.”
In the study, sitting at his desk, was the head of the household. Thickly drawn rings for eyes, in a lumpy wax face, attached themselves to Ian’s gaze. The doll was wearing an old-looking black coat and was stooped over his desk, as if he was really tired. Flakes of white paint, maybe from his hair, speckled his coat like dust or dandruff.
“There’s something else I’ll always remember, it’s a poem that my Dad used to recite to me, I don’t know where on Earth he got it from. It goes – no, don’t laugh – it goes like this:
One fine day in the middle of the night,
Two dead men got up to fight.
Back to back, they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other.”
“Well, it’s a nonsense poem, isn’t it?”
“I know, but there’s something really strange about it. It’s like everything has been turned around and upside down. But to the people in the poem, it’s perfectly normal. It gives me the creeps.”
The old doll in his stiff black suit continued to stare back at Ian as if he recognized him. Suddenly, the boy had one of those funny feelings, a feeling he was not quite there. Something was at the back of his mind, another time, another place, he closed his eyes so that he could see it, but too slow. It was gone. Just that funny, happy-sad, sickly-sweet feeling that there was something really important, a place that he had to be, and something he had to do, but he just couldn’t remember what it was.
Hot flushes were colouring his cheeks. He really wanted to do a Mister Shaky, but he remembered the scolding his Mum gave him the last time he’d done that in public.
“Ian? Ian, are you ready?”
“Typical. Now the place is closing, he doesn’t want to go …”
THE LAVISHLY ILLUSTRATED COLLECTION OF STORIES CAN BE FOUND HERE.