The Doll Collection

The Doll Collection

by Ellen Datlow

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765376800
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 03/10/2015
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Multiple-award-winning editor ELLEN DATLOW has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for almost thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI magazine and SciFiction and has edited more than fifty anthologies.

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The Doll Collection


By Ellen Datlow

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2015 Ellen Datlow
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-5194-8



CHAPTER 1

Skin and Bone by Tim Lebbon


After sixty-two days in the cold, the unexplored landscape where words hardened into solid shapes and every breath might have frozen his soul, Kurt's wedding ring fell off. He only removed his glove for a moment, needing the more dextrous use of his bare fingers to unhook frozen gear from the sled. And for a few seconds he didn't even notice that the ring had slipped away. It was like that sometimes down here, as if the cold could slow brain functions in the same way that it thickened oil and paraffin, made every movement three times harder than it was the day before. He saw it drop from his finger and sink into the snow, but it was several heartbeats before he said, "Shit."

He'd thought that metal contracted in the cold. Enough, at least, to keep it on his finger. But he supposed his loss of weight from starvation and excessive effort had finally superseded the ratio of gold shrinkage.

"Shit. Shit!" He had the good sense to put his glove back on before digging into the snow.

"What the hell?" Marshall asked. They were the best of friends, closer than brothers, but they had experienced strange moments on this expedition when they hated each other.

"My wedding ring," Kurt said. "Bindy will kill me."

"I doubt she'll even care," Marshall said, and he continued the laborious effort to set up camp. The sky was clear right now, a startling blue streaked with fingertrails of cloud high up. But a bad storm was coming, and they had mere hours to prepare.

"Can't you help me?" Kurt asked.

"Why don't you just—!" Marshall shouted, loud, breath glistening in front of his face and then drifting to the ground as a million tiny diamonds. He sighed. "Sorry. Yeah. Sorry."

The cold played strange tricks on the men. On day seventeen, Kurt had seen a line of camels on the snowscape to the east, walking slowly up the rocky ridge from the ice fields. He'd insisted that they were there, and even after Marshall told him he was hallucinating—and Kurt acknowledged that—the camels were still visible, slow and lazy. On day thirty, Marshall swore that his dick had fallen off. He'd tried stripping his layers to find it, preserve it in ice so that the surgeons could reattach it after the expedition. Even when it was exposed, his sad shriveled member turning blue in its nest of frost-speckled hair, he'd made Kurt grab it to make sure it was still attached. On day forty-seven, a day before they reached the South Pole, Kurt and his sled had slipped into a shallow crevasse, and it had taken Marshall four hours to haul him out. By then Kurt was trying to scream, but the cold had swollen his throat and frozen his pain inside.

The cold ate into a person. The physical effects were obvious, but the psychological impact was more insidious. They had hardly shared a harsh word in the thirty years they'd known each other before this adventure, but on day fifty-three Kurt had threatened to fucking gut Marshall if he didn't finish every last drop of his soup.

Such things were laughed about afterward. They were doing this by choice, and they knew that odd things would happen. That made it almost bearable.

"Here it is," Marshall said. "Stupid sod. Don't lose it again."

"Oh, mate," Kurt said, taking the small gold ring from his friend. "Marshall, thanks."

"Stupid sod." Marshall went back to unpacking the tent and equipment from the sled. "Now let's get a shift on. I don't want to freeze to death today."

"How about tomorrow?"

"Nah, not then, either."

Kurt smiled as he slipped the ring back on. "How about three days' time?"

"Help me with this."

"How about a week next Thursday?"

"Fucking prick!"

They finished erecting the small tent, and while Marshall zipped himself inside to light the stove and start melting snow for cooking and drinking, Kurt set about tying down the camp. He hammered stakes into the ice and tied the two sleds to them. Then he banged in more stakes and made sure the tent was secure.

Hands pressed into the small of his back, he stretched, leaning back and looking around. As always, it still felt like he was pulling that damn sled across the ice. It might be months before he didn't feel like he was pulling all that weight. But it was worth it.

The desolate Antarctic landscape was as beautiful as it was deadly, and he never felt more alive than when he was on some mad expedition or other with Marshall. And this was the maddest of all. It was one of the harshest places on Earth, and survival took every ounce of intelligence and strength, endurance and ruggedness. It was that more than anything that had brought them here. The rest of the world was an endless distance away, so remote that it felt like a dream. Here and now was all that mattered.

Marshall had probably been right about Bindy not caring if Kurt lost his wedding ring. They'd been drifting apart for years, and she'd effectively told him that "another fucking adventure" would cost him his wife. She wanted kids and security, a three-bedroom house and a Labrador. He wanted danger and challenges, the satisfaction of taking on the elements, the thrill of extremes. Jack London had written that "the function of man is to live, not to exist." Kurt was living as well as he could.

He tried to care about Bindy but could not make it happen. It was too cold, the incoming storm too terrible, to care about anything other than surviving the next few days.

"Toilet break!" he called, and Marshall muttered something from inside the tent. Kurt knew that they could well be confined in there with each other for days once the storm hit. He'd relish this one last opportunity to take a dump in private.

He tramped past the sleds, making a final inspection to ensure their equipment was tied down securely, then made for a rocky outcropping to the east. He knew from experience that it was farther away than it looked, and after a few minutes of tramping across the ice he reached it. Breathing hard, he turned around to make sure the camp was still in sight. The sky was mostly clear, the sun was dancing with the horizon, and the storm was several hours away.

Behind the sculpture of snow- and ice-speckled rock he found a tent.

Kurt gasped, breath stuck in his throat, his body refusing to react. Then he let out his held breath and took a step back.

"Bloody hell," he muttered. "Hey, Marshall." But Marshall was still inside their own tent across the snowfield. Maybe if Kurt shouted he'd hear, but ... But he didn't want to call out to his friend. Not yet. He wanted to see what he'd found.

The tent was old. Very old. Almost shapeless; he could only tell what it was from the struts protruding like the smashed rib cage of a dead giant. The old canvas was its skin, and the humped shapes its distorted insides.

Kurt's heart was hammering. He'd heard about occasional finds like this—explorers out on the ice discovering remnants of old camps, forgotten expeditions, sometimes even the sad remains of dead adventurers. But through all their adventures in Alaska, the Sahara, South America, and Nepal, he'd never seen anything like this himself.

He moved closer. A gust of wind blew a haze of snow across the scene, and he winced as it grated against the bare skin of his face. He should have covered up, worn his hooded coat and heavy face scarf. He was becoming clumsy; so many weeks into their journey the routines that could save their lives were too easy to let slip. It was the Antarctic summer, the cold a mere thirty degrees below zero. But frostbite could still strike, especially with the rising breeze adding to the chill factor.

He didn't have long.

The tent material looked many decades old. It was holed in places, and when he grabbed at it a chunk came off in his hand. He knelt and lowered his face close to the snow surface, trying to see beneath the fallen tent. Trying to see what might be inside.

"I should get Marshall," he muttered, his words made ice and stolen by another gust of wind. They sprinkled on the rocks beyond the tent.

Maybe it had blown here from elsewhere. Perhaps it had been buried for many decades, and some of the recent, deeper thaws had brought it back to the surface. Or it could have been nestled here all along, covered with snow one year, exposed the next, a yearly cycle of burial and exposure.

He stood and turned away, emerging into the open again and ready to go get Marshall. Then, looking back out across the ice fields toward camp, he blinked several times, trying to make sense of what he'd seen.

It was like trying to retrieve an old memory, rather than his most recent.

Something there, he thought, and he clambered back behind the rocks. Something not part of the tent. And there it was. He crouched down and tugged at a support spur. It snapped off and pulled a spread of canvas with it, and beneath there lay a leg. He worked quickly to uncover the body. The clothing confused him, so thin and slight for the harshness of even the best conditions this place might present. Then he realised that it was not clothing at all. The corpse was naked. It was leathery, weathered skin.

He worked faster, uncovering the whole form until he reached the corpse's head.

And he cried out in revulsion and shock, stepping back and catching his heel on something buried in the ice—a timber support, a rock, a bone—and sprawling onto his back, never once taking his eyes from that face.

The plainest face he had ever seen. A blank. He had seen dead people before, but never like this, never so washed away. It was like a person who was not quite finished. The face held the features of a normal human, but even in death there was something so vague, so incomplete, that Kurt could not tear his eyes away. He wanted to. He needed to. But like a child fascinated with a crushed rabbit by the side of a road, he could only stare.

The eyes were sunken pits. The nose was a bump, unremarkable, shapeless. There was hair but it had been styled by ice and time into a shapeless wig. Flat lips were drawn apart over yellowed teeth, the mouth a slit as if sliced by a knife.

The figure stared just over his shoulder.

Kurt stood again, slowly. His shock receded and his heartbeat lessened. It was only as he backed slowly away that he realised there was another shape next to the first, partially hidden beneath the rest of the old tent, yet just visible. Its face was flat and blank.

He turned and tried to run, but his clothing was too heavy and thick, his muscles too weakened by eight weeks on the ice. He sprawled into the snow. It stuck to his chilled skin, reaching cold fingers into his mouth and eyes. He stood again and ran on, feeling a warmth around his crotch. He'd pissed himself.

By the time he reached camp he was exhausted. Marshall was still inside the tent, and when Kurt opened the flaps and tumbled inside he received a torrent of curses.

He'd let out all the heat.

"Dickhead," Marshall said. "Get them off, get them dry. You stink. We might have another few hours of peace before the storm hits."

"What does the forecast say?" Kurt asked. He hadn't told Marshall about the old tent.

Marshall checked out the small laptop sitting on a warming plate to encourage the battery back to life. "Four days of freezing our bollocks off," he said. He said something else, too. A quip, a joke. But Kurt didn't hear.

He wanted to tell Marshall, but he couldn't. The longer he left it, the weirder it would sound. Oh, and by the way, I found two dead bodies that don't even look like real people.

"Hey!" Marshal nudged him softly.

"Yeah."

"Get those clothes off, Kurt. You need to get warm."

"I'm fine, I'm okay."

"Like hell. You're no use to me dead. All skin and bone."

While Kurt undressed and huddled deep into his sleeping bag, the words circled in his mind, and he realised why they sounded so strange.

The bodies he'd found were more than skin and bone. If anything they'd resembled shop mannequins.

"I need to get back out there!" he said, trying to unzip the sleeping bag. "I need to make sure."

Marshall moved closer to him, one arm around his shoulder and the other offering a mug of hot tea. "Drink. All of it."

The fight went out of Kurt just like that, and he realised that he'd probably been seeing things. He hadn't taken his snow goggles with him, and had left himself open to the cold. It was harsher than he thought. It did stuff to the mind.

"Marsh, I'm cold."

"Yeah. One guy I heard about on his last trip down here, he got so cold that his brain fluid froze. When they thawed him out he'd been reset as a six-year-old. All he wanted to do was get home and watch Power Rangers."

"You're so full of shit."

"You know it."

They drank hot tea together. Marshall rehydrated some spiced lentil and steak soup, and they hugged the warm mugs, spooning food into their eager mouths. They made small talk until the storm hit several hours later.

Then they hunkered down, listening to the wind, imagining the inches of snow piling up and blowing around them with every hour that passed.

They'll be smothered, Kurt thought, and the idea pleased him. When we next get out of the tent they'll be gone, and it'll be like they never were.

In places like this, the dead should stay buried.

* * *

Huddled into their sleeping bags, they listened to the storm. They didn't talk much. They sat on either side of the stove, reaching out occasionally to adjust the gas up or down. Wet clothes hung around them. The small tent stank of sweat and piss from the drying clothing, but they were more than used to that. It was the odour of exploration, and they had been in a place like this together many times before.

Boredom rarely touched Kurt. He thought of his childhood dreams and how far he had come. And he thought of Bindy, waiting for him back home if he was lucky, gone if he was not. That was another strange thing about existing in such an extreme environment—right now, back home didn't seem to matter. London was as far away as the moon, and only the here and now was important.

A couple of hours into the storm, Marshall started brewing more tea. Kurt watched the blue flames kissing the pot, eyes drooping, blinking slower and slower, and then the pot and flames were gone.

The dead bodies appeared in their place. The storm was raging, scouring the landscape with ice fingers and teeth of frost, but around Kurt there was a circle of calm and peace. He approached the old, rotting tent and the things it might once have protected. They were moving. He could see that from far away, and though he had no wish to go closer his feet took him, tramping through fresh snow, ignoring the high winds and piercing cold that should be killing his exposed extremities. No no no, he thought as he walked closer, because one of the shapes he'd uncovered seemed to be sitting up, turning its blank expression and empty eyes his way, leaning to the side, ready to stand, shifting and quivering as if seen through a heat-haze, not a cold so intense that the marrow in his bones was freezing.

No no no, he thought again, and when he took in a breath to scream he tasted sweet steam.

"Here," Marshall said. "Kurt? You awake?"

Kurt's eyes snapped open. He looked around the cramped tent and nodded, leaning to his left, ready to sit up. "Yeah, fine. Nodded off." And saw them, he thought. I saw them moving out there in the storm!

"What's up, mate?"

"Up?"

"You're acting weird."

Kurt took a grateful sip of the tea. It burnt his split lips, but he relished the pain.

"Well ..." He sipped some more and sighed, making a decision. "I saw something out in the snow, over by the rock outcropping to the east. Couple of bodies."

"Yeah?" Marshall was interested, not shocked. They both knew how many people had died in this vast place, and how many of those had never been seen again. Marshall had climbed Everest several years ago, and often told Kurt about the bodies he'd seen up there. He said they weren't spooky or sad, just lonely. They'd died doing what they loved.

"But they were weird," Kurt said. "They didn't look ... normal. Human. It was like they were mannequins or something. You know, unfinished."

"Could've been really old," Marshall said. "Cold can do weird things to a body. Cold, dry air dries the corpses out, leaches all the fluids from them."

"But their faces," Kurt said, blinking and seeing that face staring at him. "Their eyes."

"Should've told me!" Marshall said. The revelation seemed to have cheered him up.

"When the storm's passed we'll go and check them out together."

No way, Kurt thought, but he didn't say that. He didn't want to sound scared.

They finished their tea. The storm roared on. Neither of them spoke again for some time.

Kurt thought of Bindy, turning his loose wedding ring and trying to care.

* * *

The tent grew darker as snow piled up outside. Kurt kept the stove burning, and the air remained musty and heavy. He didn't mind. He was so used to the burning touch of cold on his skin that it was good to feel something else. And he knew it would be over soon. The storm would pass, they would dig themselves out, and their journey home would continue.

They'd leave those things behind.

Marshall mumbled in his sleep. He shifted, kicked his feet in the tight sleeping bag, then shouted. Kurt sat up and stared, not used to his friend making such a noise. Marshall was always such a deep sleeper, and Kurt had always been jealous of just how quickly he managed to fall asleep. Clear conscience, Marshall would say. Now he twitched and moved, and when he kicked again he came dangerously close to knocking over the stove burning between them. It had a cover, and if tipped over there was an auto shut-off. But it was still a risk.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Doll Collection by Ellen Datlow. Copyright © 2015 Ellen Datlow. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Photographs 9

Acknowledgments 11

Introduction Ellen Datlow 13

Skin and Bone Tint Lebbon 17

Heroes and Villains Stephen Gallagher 35

The Doll-Master Joyce Carol Oates 49

Gaze Gemma Files 75

In Case of Zebras Pat Gadigan 97

There Is No Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold Seanan McGuire 121

Goodness and Kindness Carrie Vaughn 149

Daniel's Theory About Dolls Stephen Graham Jones 167

After and Back Before Miranda Siemienowicz 191

Doctor Faustus Mary Robinette Kowal 215

Doll Court Richard Bowes 225

Visit Lovely Cornwall on the Western Railway Line Genevieve Valentine 243

Ambitious Boys Like You Richard Kadrey 259

Miss Sibyl-Cassandra Lucy Sussex 283

The Permanent Collection Veronica Schanoes 295

Homemade Monsters John Langan 309

Word Doll Jeffrey Ford 329

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The Doll Collection 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Bibliotropic More than 1 year ago
Dolls. You either like them or they creep you out on some level. Miniature humans in plastic or porcelain, they have a place in just about everyone’s lives. At some point in your life, you probably owned a doll, whether it was some collectible item you put on a shelf and admired from afar, or a hand-sewn ragdoll that was loved to death over the years. They’ve touched us, as individuals and as a culture. And The Doll Collection takes us on a spine-tingling ride through numerous short stories all about them, but with one proviso: no stories about “evil dolls.” It’s a fallback. The doll possessed by a malicious ghost demon or that steals the soul of is owner or some such cliché. There’s none of that here. All stories involve dolls in some way or another, and all are creepy, but there’s no fallback on old and tired themes, and that gives this collection a wonderfully fresh and original feeling. As always, some stories were stronger than others, but impressively, all the stories here were quite strong, and even when I didn’t expect to enjoy them so much due to prior experience with some authors’ works, I ended up surprised and impressed by how much I really did like what I read. Just goes to show that sometimes first impressions can be dead wrong, and I love being confronted with that when it yields new good fiction to read! But there were some amazing stories here, some true gems of the genre! Seanan McGuire’s There is No Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold is probably the best example of this, and a stand-out offering in this anthology. Taking beautiful and expensive ball-jointed dolls and turning them into something powerful and ancient and disturbing was a stroke of genius, especially the way she did it, and I would pick up this book for that story alone! Trigger warning: there’s physical abuse from a too-smug [expletive] in this story, so it may well turn your stomach in some places, but the revenge ending was quite satisfying. Beautiful, dark, and haunting. But Joyce Carol Oates’s The Doll Master? Miranda Siemienowicz‘s After and Back Before? Richard Bowes’s Doll Court? Lucy Sussex’s Miss Sibyl-Cassandra? All amazing stories, all a treat to read! Mary Robinette Kowal’s Doctor Faustus is the very reason that I’ve thought I couldn’t swear allegiance to any gods or demons while acting; you never know what will happen as a result. Pat Cadigan’s In Case of Zebras shows why sometimes the young sees things that adults brush off, and why they should be paying attention. I think it’s the sheer variety of stories here that really makes the collection shine. When you give people a limitation in what they can write, it forces a stretch of the imagination, forces one to think outside the box, and you can get some wonderful creative and varied stories as a result. That’s the joy of The Doll Collection. Every story may involve dolls, to a greater or smaller degree, but that’s the only thing that connects them besides a general feel of the supernatural or macabre. It’s prefect for a quick dip into many authors’s writing styles, what they can do with words and a connecting theme, and I loved it. If you buy any one anthology this month, it ought to be this one. There’s very little to be disappointed by and so many things to impress you, whether you’re a fan of dark fiction, the supernatural, or just damn good stories. Datlow worked wonders with this idea and the selection of submitted stories, and the authors pulled out all the stops to make this a fantastic collection. Highly recommended for those nights when the rain is pouring, the wind is howling, and you want a little more tingle in your spine.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not what I expected. I was bored with most of the stories and just quit reading halfway through the book
eternalised More than 1 year ago
Dolls are creepy. Enough said. Now, in this collection, which packs a bunch of the most original stories I’ve ever read in the genre, the authors explore the trope of creepy dolls. A range of haunted dolls, mad doll owners, creepy doctors and ventriloquists pass by, and each story is unique and strong in its own way. One of the best horror anthologies I’ve read. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago