The First Snow of Winter

1

People called him the Doll Maker. Nobody ever wondered aloud why every doll had the same face.

The man was a stranger in the little village, even though his shop had been open for almost ten years. He was considered a bit eccentric by his neighbours and people mostly left him to his own devices. In passing, people were polite; they smiled, greeted him and passed the time of day. But nobody tried to engage in conversation. There had been a few attempts in the past but these were either greeted by silence or he said things that made no sense at all.

His little shop sold home-made toys. They were nothing special; he could carve wood and metal into an array of pleasing shapes, but had no real skill. He sometimes took commissions from locals but most of his money came from tourists passing through.

He made a great many dolls, and seemed to take delight in carving these from different kinds of soft wood. He sometimes gave workshops for tourists where he would demonstrate making one of his dolls from scratch. He charged very little for these workshops; business tended to be booming during tourist season.

Even though he had meagre skill, it was pleasant enough to watch him at work. He was nothing if not a showman. He’d set up a bench in the field behind his shop and take out a piece of wood, already stripped bare and ready to carve. Then he’d start carving, his face furrowed with concentration. A few tourists who didn’t know any better sometimes asked him questions. He never answered, too absorbed in his work. Piece by piece, chip by chip the wood started to take form. He always gave away the finished piece to one of the tourist’s kids.

It took a while for people to realise what was going on. He never had any dolls on display in the shop, and very few local people bought them, so it took a long time no one in the village knew that he’d carved the same face, over and over again into wood. Onto every doll.

It was the Wilson twins who first connected the dots. Their mother was a widow who had recently moved into the village. She had a job working in the diner but struggled to make ends meet. She bought both her sons one of the dolls for their birthday because she couldn’t afford anything else. The boys had never been given a present before, and were delighted by the crude figures.

It didn’t take long for the boys to realise their dolls had the same face. When they did, they simply assumed the dolls had the same face because they themselves were twins.

However, other villagers soon found out and rumours spread like wildfire. The few locals who’d bought his dolls got together and realised they all had the same faces. Some locals spied on tourists when they bought a doll and confirmed they had the same faces. The rumours started after that.

James Stephenson was the only one who asked the man, straight to his face, why the dolls he made all had the same face. James was the oldest resident in the village and was due to turn 110 soon. Nobody else would have dared to ask. He never got a sensible answer, of course.

The man simply smiled at James and said, ‘a man makes what is in his heart and head, no more or less than that’.

James didn’t know what to make of this and wisely said nothing.

2

Once the villagers knew about the dolls their attitude towards the man changed.

The politeness vanished completely. Locals avoided the man and his shop at all costs. People crossed the street whenever they saw him coming.

At first, the man wore puzzled, hurt look on his face, but this vanished after a while.

Everyone had a different theory about why the dolls had the same faces. He was murderer and the dolls had the face of his first victim; he was deeply in love with someone, a woman from somewhere else, someone he couldn’t have, and carved her face onto every doll so he would never forget her; he was a stalker; a rapist; the faces were all the same because he didn’t have the skill for anything else; or, he was simply insane.

Whatever theory people believed or didn’t believe, there was one thing everyone in the village agreed on; there was something off about the man. He wasn’t one of them. He would best be avoided.

Things did not get any better for the man when a tourist, after buying a doll, got hurt. The doll, crudely made like all the others, came apart and the tourist’s little girl was badly cut by a screw. The tourist brought the doll back to the shop and had a heated argument with the man. A few locals overheard most of it so of course everyone knew. Details included how the tourist wept, the dollmaker curses, how the dollmaker swore and threw money back into the tourist’s face.

It was soon after this that the man’s property was vandalised. Not all at once, you understand, or there would have been trouble -- but gradually, small things at a time, timid messages for the man that he wasn’t welcome in the village.

One of his windows was smashed with a rock. His milk was stolen from the front step of his house.Crude words were spray painted on his house and the walls of his shop; most toys ever bought by the locals were returned in bulk, broken into pieces, and someone even broke into his shop and destroyed many toys.

Soon after the break-in the man was seen in the woods outside of the village, drunk and wearing only pyjamas, sobbing and howling at the moon.

3

It was Luke Turner who found out about the man’s dead daughter.

Luke Turner was feeble-minded and nobody thought much of him. He was almost fifty and still lived with his mother, who fed, clothed and dressed him every day. Luke loved the doll maker and was the only one who’d kept anything bought in his shop.

One day, while his mother was trying to feed him, Luke grabbed an old paper off the table and waved it in his mother’s face, jabbing it with his finger and using the high, shrill voice she knew meant he was worked up about something.

His mother, used to his little turns, tried to ignore him at first and feed him but he wouldn’t let up so she finally took the paper off him. It was an old one and she’d been using it to wrap her best china in.

The paper was five or six years old the front cover had a story all about a young girl who’d drowned. It took a few moments for Luke’s mother to realise what had got him so riled – the article had a picture of the girl’s father, it was the doll maker.

By the end of the day everyone knew about the doll maker’s dead daughter. It was clear that the doll’s faces were an crude replica of hers.

After that, the new favourite rumour was that he’d drowned his daughter and carved the faces out of guilt.

4

Luke Turner’s baby sister, Greta vanished on the first day of winter when there was eight inches of snow on the ground.

Her disappearance wasn’t noticed at first. Her mother had a lot on her mind. Luke had been having tantrums all morning and it took her hours to get him washed, fed and dressed. His mother was quite worn out from all this exertion and went for a nap after he had calmed down.

She didn’t look for Greta until dinner time, assuming her daughter had spent the day outside playing in the snow with her friends.

But Greta didn’t come when she called for her. She wasn’t in her room. There was no sign of her outside the house. She searched around, woke up the neighbours, but Greta had vanished.

It had started to snow heavily when she went looking for Greta, and the snow blinded her as she wandered street after street, hysterically calling out.

Her cries and sobs brought everyone in the village outside and they found her, in a heap at the entrance to the woods, wearing thin clothes not fit for this weather. Her skin was pale and cold to the touch. Her eyes were bloodshot, her tears frozen to her face. She babbled on and on about Greta -- and then said another name.

Some of the women took her inside, into the town hall where they got a fire burning, got her some dry clothes and set about getting her something hot to eat and drink.

A group of men went over to her house. They found Luke, fast asleep. Greta’s bedroom window was open, and snow had fallen and melted in the room. In her bed they saw a bundle, covered up in rags. They opened it and gasped. There on the blankets sat a doll.

5

They came for him in the middle of the night, when he was passed out drunk on the sofa, his face wet with tears.

He didn’t realise what was happening at first. They dragged him outside, into the snow. They beat him, spat in his face and pushed him around in the snow and dirt. He tried to stand up but he was too weak from drink too tired to move and so he just lay there, panting and weeping.

‘Whatever you think I did, it wasn’t me. Today was the anniversary of my daughter’s death. I’ve been drinking all day’ the man said.

They demanded Greta back. They demanded he tell them what had happened to his daughter. They told him they’d spare his life if he gave the girl back to her distraught mother. They didn’t want to hurt him. No blood had to be shed -- at least, not much

The man was WC hysterical. He told them he’d never seen Greta that day. He hadn’t touched her or done anything to her. He didn’t know why one of his dolls had been found outside her window. Maybe the doll was Luke’s.

Somehow the man managed to stand up, to the great surprise of the other men, and made a run for it. He fled into the woods, stumbling and half-falling. He was bleeding from a dozen places.

They caught up with him quickly. The mob of villagers were determined not to let him escape this time. They surrounded him, pushed him down, and he screamed and begged when he felt the rope around his neck. They strung him up from one of the huge oak trees that sat at the entrance to the woods.

They cheered when they heard his neck snap.

Washing Day

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