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They called it the doll cemetery. It was a small valley, barren and deserted, behind a hill that hid it from the sight of the town. Nothing grew on its arid soil; the few trees that had tried were long dead, turned into wooden skeletons that stretched their hooked fingers to the sky above.
The reason for that name was clear to anyone who visited the place. It had indeed the grim, gloomy air of old cemeteries, completely uncomforting. However, its guests were not underground, neither walled in narrow recesses. They stood in plain sight, fully exposed to eyes and weather.
There were dolls of every kind and size, of every fashion, style and era. Ancient misses with painted porcelain faces, whose richly embroidered dresses were now reduced to mouldy rags. Cheap ragdolls, or what was left of them, their smiles faded but still visible on their deformed, swollen faces. Elegant catwalk models, ten inches tall, who once possessed clothes and accessories, and now stood naked and twisted into unlikely poses. Child dolls that had once walked, cried or called their mommies, and now laid motionless, silent, often mutilated.
Some of those that had been there longer, were stuck to the ground or tied to the trees with iron wires, now corroded by rust, or with ribbons and strings that time had worn and faded. Most, though, had simply been left on the ground, and many of them had been pushed around by the wind or rain, gathering in some hollow as if in a sad common grave.
No one knew who had placed the first doll there, or why. Even for the eldest of the town it was a question without answer, but somehow it had started a sort of tradition. There were still girls who, forced to separate from their favourite doll, past beyond any chance of repair, asked for her to be brought there, among her peers. But doing it was a task for parents, because no child ever ventured there, not even for a dare.
The doll cemetery was a grim and sad place even in the full light of a summer day, but in the night, or even worst in one of those dull days threatening rain, when clouds cast a grey light over the whole place, it was impossible to walk through it and not be overwhelmed by a feeling of anguish, as if each of those little, abandoned bodies hosted a soul, silently screaming all of its torment to the ears of the living.
Like any respectable graveyard, the doll cemetery had a caretaker, or at least that is what the old homeless man who had found shelter in the badly assembled shack right in the middle of the valley was said to be.
They said that during the day he walked around the place, whispering incomprehensible words to the dolls, as if to comfort them, and that at night he went back to his shack and, behind the window – or in the doorframe in the hot summer nights – stood vigilant as if protecting a sacred place from whatever intruder.
The townsfolk believed he was crazy, but harmless, especially because he never left the valley, and whoever wanted to find him always knew where he was.
But in truth nobody ever wanted to find him.
At least until the girls disappeared.
They were three friends, fifteen years old, always together since nursery school. Once teens, they spent more time together than with their respective families, from the morning meeting to go to school to the late evening goodbye to go to sleep – unless they managed to do that together as well – with short and infrequent interruptions for meals.
The day when their parents could not find them in their rooms, their first thought was that they had secretly left, maybe by the window, to get together and do some of their mischief. It wouldn’t have been the first time.
When they weren’t back for lunch or dinner, and late at night none of the houses they could go back to had seen them come, worry started to spread in their families, and soon in the whole town.
They thought about an accident, something so serious that they weren’t even able to call. Groups of volunteers were formed, and they searched for the girls everywhere, in the town and around it. But they didn’t go behind the hill, why should they?
It was only when none of them brought back any news that the mother of one of the three remembered, shocked, what her daughter had told her a week, maybe ten days ago, failing to elicit her attention. What she had said about the caretaker of the doll cemetery.
He had molested them, so the girl had said to a mother that didn’t care to listen, knowing how frequently her daughter made up unbelievable stories to feed her lust for attention. He had approached them late at night, she had explained, he had tried to make them follow him, he had tried to touch them, but they had fled.
The parents of the second girl said they had heard nothing of that. They accused the poor woman, dumping on her the blame for what might have happened. They aroused the spirits of their neighbours, and declared themselves ready to tear that shack down, if that could help to find their daughter.
But for the father of the third girl, a widower with a meek face and a large body, the report had been no news. His daughter, too, had told him the same thing. But it couldn’t have happened. That man never went into the town, everybody knew, and the girl had sworn she had never set foot in the cemetery. Clearly it must be a misunderstanding, maybe a prank, he kept repeating. Going there would be just a waste of time.
No one listened to him.
They accused him of being a craven, of not caring about his daughter’s fate. After all, when had he ever cared, always away for work, with the poor girl left alone to her own devices? And the pressure that had been on the woman shifted on him. She might have been shallow, but he was a man, he ought to have done something, immediately, before the worst happened.
His words, his apparent attempts to clear the homeless man, were worth nothing, except maybe to exacerbate the people even more. A compact group of men, armed with a wrath they deemed right and with bad intentions, joined the parents of the girls to go to the doll cemetery, in the unshakable belief that the girls would be found there.
And they were.
The first, the one who had said nothing to her parents, had been tied to a tree with iron wire. With her arms open wide to the heavens, her calm face, her head dangling forward on her broken neck, she looked like an angel who wanted to keep vigil on that place of death, now real.
Cries of rage rose from the crowd, who started to march faster. Still, even before such evidence, the widower kept saying that it was impossible, that the caretaker couldn’t have done that.
The second girl was halfway to the centre of the valley. She was sat on the ground, her back leaning on a trunk, her arms limps at her sides. Her ears had been ripped away from her head, violently, and rivulets of blood painted her face, running down her cheeks. A fabric ribbon, that maybe once had been light green, had been tied over her mouth. It would have been a poor gag, if she had still been able to talk.
The dramatically belated rescuers started to run. Maybe there was still a chance to save the last girl, even though her very father, surely out of his mind by now, was shouting for them to stop, to stay away from the shack.
And there, on the door, they found the last one, the widower’s daughter. She had been thrown to the ground with no regard, in a tangled heap. Her face was livid and bloody, her clothes marked by little round stains. Her mouth was open wide in a scream she would never be able to utter, because her tongue lied aside, in a pool of blood that looked like some beast had walked on it. But for sure no beast, not a real one, had done that to her.
No one wanted to hear anything else. The shouted ramblings of the widower got lost in those of the crowd, inciting itself to avenge the girls. The man stepped back as someone kicked down the door of the shack, then everybody else did the same when the stench coming from within assaulted them like a living beast, as if it had been lurking in wait behind those weak planks.
No revenge would ever take place.
The caretaker of the doll cemetery lied lifeless on the floor of what had been his home. His skin was livid, his body swollen, and a pool of dried blood surrounded his head like a macabre halo. He had been dead for days, weeks maybe.
Silence suddenly fell on the crowd. Nothing could be heard, except the gulps of those who had lost their daughters, and the flutter of the wings of some bird, or maybe the sound of small footsteps moving away. Glances where exchanged, full of questions nobody wanted to speak and answers nobody wanted to hear. Then all eyes converged on the only one who had never wanted to go there, who was now walking away slowly, looking down, clutching his chest with his hands.
They saw him stumble toward the hill, then suddenly stop to free the hem of his trousers from the hand of a doll, that must have got stuck into it. They saw him tremble as he shook his leg, as if in panic, then turn around, and disappear behind the hill at a brisk step.
From that day, nobody set foot in the doll cemetery anymore.
Credit To – CMT