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An Idolwood story
Start at the beginning of the Idolwood series
The Hanged Man had a name, a job, a mortgage, and four heads in a freezer in Michigan. Of these, the freezer was of greatest importance to him.
It would have been nice to bring it along to Idyllwood, where he could run his fingers along the cold and unresponsive lips, count the teeth within the locked and secretive mouths. It calmed him in the afterglow of orgasm to close his eyes and count to thirty-two, though one of the heads was missing three teeth due to decay and he had removed one tooth from another while it still lived, to see what gums felt like as they whimpered around your fingers, and to learn how much blood could come from the mouth.
He hummed tunelessly before his worktable—the tidy one in the spare bedroom, at which he spun his wool and fetches. The other remained safely locked at the back of his garage, beneath boxes of Craftsman tools. In one great hand he held a ball of papier-mâché, fingers and palms sticky and coated in thick white paste. He molded the features, his own eyes calm and wearing a Buddha's smile. The delicate pink tip of his tongue was caught unconsciously between flabby lips.
The fetch's nose was pinched into a straight and severe ridge, with only the hint of flare at the base to indicate nostrils. A thumb into the socket, and his smile grew wider, his eyes more distant; then another thumb to shape another eye. A knife to carve the mouth which would whisper only to the Hanged Man, would tell him secrets from faraway places, would take and give instructions in equal measure.
It took fifteen vertical cuts to create a full thirty-two teeth. Odd and even in equal measure. Balance, order, direction and calm. He kissed the newborn mouth gently, relishing the salty-sweet savor of paste as he licked his lips again. This one would share in his baldness, he decided, and set it aside to dry without weaving horsehair manes.
The armature would be of brass wire, easily woven, easily tamed. He took two needle nose pliers and began coiling from the spool at his right, meditatively, almost from reflex, but his mind did not wander from its purpose. The little fetch was foremost to him, crucial and important. It would bestride the world, would hear and see and know, and would whisper secrets to his willing ears.
He loved the calm of the work, the essence of creation. He disliked clay but knew this was how God felt in the beginning, when He created and did not destroy, before rebellion and disobedience forced Him to become Alpha and Omega. In the beginning, when all His work was in the making of a man, the making of his mate, the spinning of light and life from raw nothingness, the divisions of the earth and waters, coming to this, to him, to his own creations and their undying devotion.
Arms and legs spun and twisted. Features formed. Calm.
"I will find something soon," Grey paced the length of the floor. "I've had my resume polished for a while and it's not going to be a problem."
The sound of shifting fabric came across the cell phone, which lay open on the coffee table. "Told Debs yet?"
"No, and I'm not about to if I can help it."
"Mmmf. Don't blame you. Where you looking?"
"I'd do best downtown. There's nothing around here that could match what I had at S&T."
"Yeah, it was a good gig." The sound of a cigarette lighter punctuated his words. "It's sure too bad. The market, you know, the job picture? In the toilet."
"Yes, dad, I know."
"First time I got laid off, no problem. Plenty of work. If you wanted it, anyway. Walgreens picked me up. Straight off. Maybe a week I looked."
"It's probably going to take me more than a week."
"So. What about Isaac?"
Grey rubbed his brow. "I know. What did you tell me when you lost your job?"
"Nothing. Didn't have to. Went to the restaurant every morning. Read the want ads. Hit the streets, came home at the usual time, and in a week I had work. Came home then and told your mother." His father's chuckle was wet with phlegm. "She just asked how big a raise I got. Never tell 'em more than you have to. Secret to a happy marriage."
Grey didn't answer. His eyes went to the photos on the mantel, of Isaac in his pee-wee baseball uniform, holding up his first trout from their vacation in Yellowstone, dressed in a somber dark suit for his first reading at Deborah's church. "I'll have to tell him something."
"No, you don't. That's what I'm saying. He's in school anyway. Do like me. Go to your coffee shop. Take your laptop. Find the work. Not easy but that's why they call it work."
"Maybe." Grey nodded slowly. "Actually, that's a good plan. Deborah's got him back most of next month. It couldn't take that long."
"It's in the toilet. But you're smart." Another moist chuckle came through the phone. "You're my boy. You'll do good, Grey. Screw S&T, screw Burstein. You'll do good. Just don't dip your pen in the company ink next time."
"Yes, dad, I know."
"It's all I'm saying. Now why are we still on the phone? Go get a job. Hey, bring Isaac over Sunday. We'll get lunch at the Buffalo, on me."
"You don't have to do that. I can..."
"It's all I'm saying. My treat."
"All right, dad. I'll give it to you. Thanks." The doorbell brought his head around. "Hold on a second. Do you mind staying on the line? Since the break-in..."
"Sure, go ahead. I don't care."
Grey took the few stairs down and looked through the heavy leaded glass. Alex stood outside, lifted a hand in a short wave, and Grey smiled despite himself. "Never mind, dad. I'll talk to you later."
He hung up the phone and unlocked the door.
He was struck again by the sheer size of Alex. He took up most of the door, both in height and breadth, massive chest and arms straining against the tee shirt. At least this one was clean, though it still bore the tribal design Grey had noticed the night before. That or similar.
"Hi, Grey. You got a second?"
"Yes, at the moment. What can I do for you?"
"Might be nothing, but..." He reached into the gym bag at his feet and pulled out a small bundle wrapped in a stained towel. "I was out for my run this morning. It's a straight cardio day, so no point in the gym. You know the preserve? Good trails. There's little hills along the river there.
"Anyway, finished my run and I was stretching. Saw this in the roots along the river." Unwrapping the bundle revealed a doll's head, the streaks of mud along its features highlighting the empty vapidity of the eyes. Its small lips were parted slightly in a narrow cupid's bow, displaying four tiny teeth.
It took Grey a moment to realize that each tooth had been slightly filed to come to subtle but chilling points. Combined with the emptiness of the huge, unblinking eyes, it made him draw back from Alex and his burden.
"Yeah," Alex said, nodding. "I know. I thought about what you said. You found something in the foundations. Was it like this?"
"It was. Not—I mean, it didn't have those teeth. It was made out of wire and some kind of paste or paper, not ... that's an actual doll's head. The one I found was handmade."
"Huh. You want it?" He held the bundle out in front of him. "I sure don't."
"No!" Grey recoiled from the obscene figure. "Why'd you even dig it out?"
Alex shrugged. "We share the foundations, yeah? It's a creepy thing. If it's in my walls I kinda want to know. Figured I'd ask. Anyway..." He began to withdraw the idol.
"No, wait a second." Grey forced himself to put out a hand. "Let me see it again. Even if it isn't exactly the same, it's too much of a coincidence that they're just laying around the subdivision. Maybe there are markings in common."
Alex held the doll out again, allowing Grey to take it. He turned it over critically, running a finger over the molded back of the head with distaste. There were some slightly raised portions at the back of the bald head, and looking more closely he could see that some stamped information had indeed existed, but was filed away.
"Here—markings, like I thought. Filed away like the teeth, you see?" He held it to Alex again, who nodded.
"But they had to put the teeth in, yeah? It sure didn't come like that."
Grey nodded, and unwrapped the rest of the bundle. The neck was screwed into a roughly carved tree-branch of equal thickness, serving as the body. The bark had been stripped off and crude gouges and stripes were dug into the wood. He traced one with his finger, feeling a shiver as he did so. Another vaguely tribal design, like those on the face of the first idol they'd found.
"What do you think about this hole drilled through the middle, here?"
Alex shrugged. "Place for arms, maybe? Didn't have any when I found it."
"Come on in," Grey stepped aside, "let's take a look online and see if we can learn anything about these dolls."
Alex shook his head. "No. Sorry, can't right now. Got to get my rock climbing in."
"It wouldn't take long."
"No, sorry. It's Tuesday. I got my run in but now I've cooled down enough. Got to get the meal replacement and creatine in before I get to the climbing wall."
Grey blinked. "You look like you could afford to skip one day's routine."
"No." He shook his head firmly. "No, I can't. You start doing that and next thing you know, you're turning soft. You have to stick to the routine or it all goes to hell."
"Okay," said Grey. "I'll take a look, but here. You hold onto this thing. I don’t want it in my house."
"Sure," Alex took the doll and nodded. "Hey, let me know if you find anything. Like I say, we share the walls, yeah? I don't like it."
"Sure." Grey closed the door, thinking.
He had figured Alex wasn't behind the doll, or the break-in attempt. He was too direct and open when he talked. Still, what if Alex had been the real target? He clearly stuck to a schedule you could set a watch by, and he'd been gone when the window was broken. If the would-be burglar didn't realize the building was a duplex, or didn't know for sure which unit was his...it was possible. The whole thing might have been a big mistake.
The school bus shuddered to a halt, doors opening with a rasp. Isaac swung down and re-adjusted his backpack, then started up the street with those classmates who also lived in the subdivision. They moved in two small packs, one group ahead, chatting and laughing and kicking at stones, the other—Isaac's group—hanging back slightly, apart from the crowd and from one another.
Isaac kept his book open as he walked, half-reading the adventures of Martin Cage, his favorite boy wizard, and half-glancing at the two girls who hung back apart from the group. They didn't make up a clique of their own, except in that they weren't part of any other.
Both girls were slightly taller than Isaac, both blonde, though one was round through the middle and already unwrapping a snack cake dug from the pocket of her grey hoodie. "Hi," she said, seeing his glance. "D'you want some?"
"Sure." He held out a hand and took half the snack cake. "Thanks."
"I'm Lily," she said.
"You weren't on the bus yesterday, or at all last week. Do you live here?"
"My dad does. I was home last...well; I was at my mom's house last week. She took me yesterday, too, for a doctor's visit."
"Oh." She nodded. "My dad lives outside Houston, in Texas. I don't get to see him much."
"You're lucky," said Isaac, around a bite of cake. "I'd rather live with my mom all the time."
"Not me," Lily screwed up her face. "Dad takes me on horseback, and I can stay up late, and Texas is really nice and warm even in the winter. I could have even gone to the swimming pool outdoors on Christmas Eve, if I wanted, but it was raining."
"That'd be weird."
"Yeah." She smiled. "But it was raining like I said, so we didn't go."
The second girl had left them, turning down one of the side streets. The knot of children up ahead had stopped briefly outside one of the homes, then continued on, and Lily pointed. "Oh! There's something new in the gardens, I bet!"
"Miss Edie has a garden. Come on, I'll show you!" She ran forward, and Isaac shifted his backpack around to put his book away as he ran. He was zipping the compartment closed as he caught up to her.
"Look, there! The blue ones." She was pointing to a border of flowers, growing tall over a rough border of fieldstone. "They're starting to bloom. That's how you know winter's really over."
"Yeah. When her garden starts flowering you can promise no more snow. She doesn't let it."
"She's a witch," said Lily, her voice dropping. "She doesn't let her flowers start to bloom until the winter's really gone."
Isaac considered the house critically. It didn't look like much of a witches' house; just another of Idyllwood's ranch-styles, with brick walls and a sloping roof. There were an awful lot of plants, though, and some little granite statues of men, women, animals and children around the bases of the plants.
In the Martin Cage books, Lady Antimony was a witch, and she used all kinds of plants and herbs to help when he got into fights with other boys or with monsters from the wood between the worlds. So it was possible.
Lily laughed. "I'm so happy! No more snow, no more snow." She wiggled her shoulders from side to side in an awkward little dance, and Isaac had to join in the laughter. "Watch and see. You ready?"
"Yeah, but my dad lives down that way." Isaac pointed. "Thanks for the cake."
"I've always got them. You can have some anytime." She waved and started down her own street, while Isaac turned to look at the garden again. In Halved Moon, Lady Antimony had turned a baby dragon into a statue, which would tell Martin secrets in the odd-numbered hours of even-numbered days. There were a lot of little statues, but he thought he could make out a low-lying one under the blue flowers near the house.
He looked up and down the street, and then walked casually up the driveway toward the attached garage as if he were going to knock on the door. He was right—it was a dragon, only it had a stupid look on its face that looked like something an old lady might think was 'cute'. He'd hoped for something fiercer, and was turning around in disappointment as the door opened.
"Hello, boy," said the woman. She was short and thin, with fine grey hair cropped close to her scalp. Her skin was brown as a nut and the lines along her face made the comparison complete. She wasn't really old, Isaac thought, but she looked like she was going to be soon, and she wasn't smiling as she stepped onto the concrete porch. "Were you looking for the hyacinths?"
"No, ma'am." He shook his head for emphasis, trying to think of a reasonable lie, but her dark eyes caught him and he settled on an explanation. "I'm sorry. I just wanted to see the dragon."
"Oh, Puffing Billy?" She coughed, took a stained handkerchief from her sleeve, and spat into it once, twice, three times before passing it from hand to hand, then tucking it into the opposite sleeve. "He's harmless. You don't have to be afraid of him."
"I wasn't..." Isaac stopped, knowing how silly it sounded.
"Yes, I know. Young boys never are. Are you new in the neighborhood?"
"What's your name?"
"Trendy. You must belong to the man in the fancy car."
Isaac flushed. "He's my dad. I don't belong to him."
"It's just a figure of speech. Don't get all worked up. Hold on, stay there a minute." She stepped inside, and Isaac considered a dash for the street. It was weird, he thought, having a conversation like this in the lady's front yard; but he was in clear view of the street and nobody could accuse him of doing anything wrong.
He looked back to the flowerbeds. Light greens were sprouting everywhere, with the blue clusters of the hyacinths which had made Lily so happy standing out among delicate white snowdrops. Isaac didn't recognize any of the plants except the hostas, which his mother grew in rings around the maple trees at the house, but the overall effect was prettier than the snow.
Besides the dragon, there was a ceramic rabbit posted back toward the building's foundation, and behind it, something else, in the shadows among the foundation. He stepped forward to get a better look—a tiny scarecrow, made of burlap and twine, posted just behind the upright rabbit.
"Here." Miss Edie opened the door and thrust out a cardboard box. Inside were three small plastic pots, each of them holding one of the grape hyacinths. "They're easy to take care of, and they'll stay in bloom 'til early summer. Take them for your father's house. He doesn't look the type to have many green and growing things in his home."
Through the open door he could see a green riot inside the house, plants and leaves everywhere and in front of every window. The yellow paint on the walls was fading to an ugly mustard color, and overall the house gave an impression that she didn't much care what it looked like.
Isaac took the plants doubtfully. "Will he know what to do with it?"
"No, he probably won't. Ask your mother, maybe. Just keep the soil damp, and it prefers light shade, but you can put it in full sun if that's all you have in your window."
"Okay..." Isaac wasn't sure what to say. He hadn't asked for the plants, and if he left them with his dad he was sure they'd die, but then, he had trespassed on the lady's house and she gave him something instead of yelling at him, so he just nodded. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. Go on home, now. Tell your father that Ms. Allaway sends her regards."
The Hanged Man sat upon his metal throne, turning the fetch-box over and over in his hands. The doll was complete in its making, fully formed and ready to receive the gifts of life which only he could provide. Which only men could provide.
One hand went to his groin, began tugging at his genitals. He thought of all the lovely secrets he would hear, the hidden worlds that would be revealed by the doll's eyes, the hidden whimpers of the night he would hear through the doll's tongue. Blood surged into him at the thought, tugging himself erect.
Curtains and walls meant nothing to his eyes and ears. He was omnipresent, omniscient, bestriding the world as he now bestrode his throne, glorious in his nudity, regal in his dominance. The world and all its gifts lay between his legs, life flowing and rushing like blood and sweat and the pearl-drop forming at the crown of his majestic scepter.
He brought the doll's face down, and baptized its eyes with the source of all life, the seed of the world, his greatest gift gladly received by its unblinking, unthinking, unliving eyes.
He fondled the heavy eggs which rested below, causing more pure, clear fluid to seep from him, dipped the mouth of the doll to receive the blessing.
His child, his fetch, his eyes and ears and all his world. Now it would live, and now it would speak, and soon it would tell him more of the interloper who dared to enter his Idyllwood—who sought to usurp his place and person.
The traitor would pay with one of the lives beneath his roof. He would be impotent, castrate, unmanned, eunuch...with a shudder the Hanged Man climaxed, holding the doll far from the spattered seed as it dripped to the cold concrete floor.
The traitor would pay. The children of the Hanged Man would see to it.
Story by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2011
Image by Amber Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2011