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Sergeant Thomas arrived within half an hour, and Fay was so relieved to see him. He dealt firmly with Auntie Jean’s panicking and set them to work searching the house, in case Ivan was playing a joke on them. They’d already looked, but the Sergeant insisted they check every cupboard, every possible hiding place both inside and outside. Meanwhile he talked to other police officers on his radio. Then he asked Uncle Gwynne to check the camera footage for the day.

The footage showed Fay and Ivan leaving the house at ten o’clock. Customers came and went, and then at two o’clock, after coming back for one of Auntie Jean’s sandwiches, Ivan snook back into the shop. Fay watched the footage with the sense of dread intensifying. She knew where he was going.

And it happened again.

She saw it this time, they all did. Ivan crept up to the attic, and went over to the dolls. He picked up the Ugly Doll from the chair first, then slung it down, carelessly, on the floor. Fay gasped – she wouldn’t have dared go near it. Then he rooted through the dolls in the pram, picking up Fay’s policeman and smiling. Fay hated him in that second. Then he picked up a book from a pile on the floor.

The screen fuzzed over. When it cleared, he was gone.

Fay felt sick. Physically sick. There was no way Ivan could just disappear –he wasn’t in the other attic room, and he wasn’t on the first floor. He’d have had no time to get to the ground floor. Uncle Gwynne and Sergeant Thomas were confused. “That’s what happened before,” said Uncle Gwynne slowly, “with the other lad.”

Fay staggered backwards, away from them and the screen. She could hear it in her head – that whisper. As I was climbing up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.

“Have they found….” Auntie Jean hesitantly asked.

“We’re still looking for George Dunn,” said Thomas in a neutral tone. He was looking uncomfortable. There was something odd occurring in this bookshop. Fay felt like at any moment, he might arrest Uncle Gwynne.

“I’d like to search this property, please Mr Tasker,” Thomas said eventually. “Starting with the cellar.”

Fay was confused. Why the cellar? It’s the attic where they’ve disappeared. They, she thought – both the other boy and now her brother Ivan. They’ve disappeared, from here.

But not taken. Not taken.

*

Thomas locked the front door and methodically went through every room in the bookshop. He made Fay stay with Auntie Jean, and they both watched his progress live on the monitor.

The cellar held lots of her Uncle’s junk. She watched Thomas rifling through boxes of paperwork, and sniffing some dusty old clothes. She wondered how long the police had searched for her cousin Artie. She could feel Auntie Jean trembling beside her. Uncle Gwynne had a face like stone, and wouldn’t look at either of them. Did they still hope that Artie would one day just walk back into the shop? Or was his body mouldering by some rock somewhere, waiting for some unfortunate hiker to discover it?

Fay felt cold, and desperately wished that her Mam would come. This wasn’t her home after all.

Thomas checked behind bookshelves in the other rooms, searching, presumably, for hidden doors. Fay was glad this was not her dream where doors could appear willy nilly. He checked the yard, nothing there but the bins. He moved up to the first floor. Nothing in history or archaeology, geography or travel. He stuck his head in the old cupboards and stamped loudly on the floorboards. Nothing.

Then he went up to the attic rooms. He had to stoop to enter through the four-and-a-half-foot door. Fay peered more closely at the screen.

She watched as he bent over the dolls. He picked one up to examine it more closely, and then turned his attention to the books, just as Ivan had done. There was one book lying on top of the others and he picked it up.

The screen fuzzed, and he was gone.

Fay bolted back from the monitor in horror. “No, no, no,” she moaned. She felt a scream try to force its way up from her stomach through her spine, and thumped her belly to stop it escaping. “That can’t happen!”

She had to know. Had to. This was worse than her dreams but it was real and it was here. Ivan was her brother, and her responsibility. She darted away from Auntie Jean, and evaded Uncle Gwynne as he went to catch her. She thought she heard him shouting after her, “My book! Don’t look at my book!” but she wasn’t sure and she wasn’t going to stop for anything.

She ran up the narrow, winding stairs to the attic, counting as she went. Sergeant Thomas was nowhere to be seen.

She entered the room slowly, warily. She no longer trusted her dolls – she wasn’t even sure about her policeman doll. He was lying on the floor, where Ivan had dropped him.

There were two dolls in the pram that she didn’t remember. A boy doll, in a blue jacket. His cheeks were ruddy, and he had yellow wool for hair, and crooked wire glasses stuck to his front, and orange shoes. And another boy doll, soft-bodied like the sailor doll with a painted smile – but he was wearing a white t-shirt, and with brown wool for hair, brown like Ivan’s hair. It can’t be Ivan, she thought wildly. He’s not a doll, he’s a human boy! But she gripped him tightly and tears started to roll down her face. She sank to her knees, gripping the policeman doll too. Whose face, she could see through her tears, was no longer smiling, but grimacing, mouth wide, like a scream.

Fay found that she couldn’t breathe. The world seemed to fuzz around her, becoming indistinct, and then inverted black and white like a photographic negative. It was if she were about to faint, but Fay knew she was still conscious. When her vision cleared, the room was smaller. Her head touched the ceiling.

The dolls were huge. Lifesize, grotesque parodies of humans – their faces grinned obscenely as their flaccid limbs splayed on the cot. Dolls they still were, but they were more than that. George Dunn, Ivan and Sergeant Thomas were trapped inside, things of wire and clay and stuffing.

Fay gasped for breath that wouldn’t come. This was her nightmare, come true. She must be sleeping, she must be! But as she gripped the clothes of both dolls, her eyes blurred with tears that would not stop, she heard that whisper again.

As I was walking up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.

It was louder than before. More distinct. Most definitely real.

She wiped furiously at her eyes, forcing breath down her throat. Looking across the room, to the Ugly Doll that Ivan had thrown so casually to the floor.

It was standing up. On legs with no feet, all soft and stuffed, no bones to hold it. It was standing up.

He wasn’t there again today. The whisper, louder. And Fay was sure it came from the Ugly Doll.

Oh how I wish he’d go away!

And Fay finally found her breath, and screamed, and jumped to her feet, desperate to get out, to find those winding stairs, round and round merry go round, to find those stairs and freedom.

But the door, that tiny four-and-a-half-foot door to the attic room, was gone.

 

THE END

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