Dora sees a wood-paneled hallway, filled floor to twenty-foot ceiling with books, manuscripts, pamphlets, journals, and maps: piled up and towering over, leaning in, enclosing, and entrapping. The walls are covered with limp, drooling mouths, and unblinking eyes. And the hall extends for miles. It turns in on itself and twists with feats of impossible geometry.
And inside this mansion, the home of a deranged hoarder, a house of unspeakable depravity, a woman and girl walk hand in hand. The woman has metallic silver hair. So does the little girl. The woman has metallic skin, almost like bronze. So does the girl. And they both have amethyst eyes.
The woman wears black. Is she in mourning? She must be. Somebody’s always dying.
The child wears a simple yellow, floor-length nightshirt. She carries a knitting needle and trails a rope of wet, red yarn behind her.
They walk hand in hand, singing a nursery rhyme. Like all nursery rhymes, it’s got a simple, sweet, repetitive tune. And like all nursery rhymes, its lyrics are about death. This one’s about the time the sewers of a great city by the sea overflowed and thousands drowned in wave after wave of human waste.
“Down, down, down. Down your mouth, down your throat, down to the ocean to die.”
Dora is the little girl… walking hand in hand with the woman in black.
Sometimes the only way forward, through this never-ending maze of a house, is to climb over piles of books, books that look dusty, but feel wet.
Sometimes the only way forward is to squeeze under close-pressing arches of ancient lore, hungry fungus brushing against Dora’s ears… tickling the back of her neck.
But through it all, they travel together. Hand in hand. Singing. Climbing. Crawling. Dodging falling towers of books. Slipping in morbid puddles.
Dora had thought she was doing a good job but… but…. she’s not looking at you. Why won’t she look at you? She’s way more interested in the books than in you. Dora can tell. She can tell because the woman stops singing and looks Dora in the eyes and says, “I’m more interested in my books than in you.”
Dora stops singing. The woman smacks her. “Keep singing, you little shit. It’s the only way we’ll find what I need. And Mummy NEEDS it.”
So Dora sings, and the sound of her voice turns into greasy, purple, multi-pointed stars (why do those stars have too many points?) that float in the air and pop like bubbles when they touch the sharp corners of the books. Dora brushes up against a book and realizes exactly how sharp those corners are. She’s bleeding now. Her sepia nightgown is rapidly turning red. She stops singing to tell Mummy that she’s been stabbed, and Mummy smacks her again. “Sing, you shit. I need to hear that voice. If Mummy doesn’t hear the voice, Mummy doesn’t find the book, and NOBODY GETS FED.”
Sticky in her blood-soaked gown, feeling faint, Dora keeps singing words of death that turn into delicate little Purple Doom Stars. Finally, one lands on a book and doesn’t pop. Instead, it turns into a lizard skull, which coughs a cloud of spores into Dora’s face and Mummy’s face. And the lizard skull laughs. And Mummy laughs. And Dora laughs. Even though it’s not funny. Even though….
And there goes Dora’s strength. A child can only lose so much blood before she falls down like the worthless deadweight she’s pretending so hard not to be. As she sinks down, somehow the dusty, dirty, blue-tiled floor is now ALSO an inch or so deep with stagnant water. Dora watches as blood seeps from her side into the water and coalesces in shapes like writhing worms. ME SAVE UP WAKE?
Mummy picks up the book Dora found, the book made of dead faces. She squeals with delight. Dora mirrors her (as she’s learned she needs to do) and squeals, too. Everyone’s squealing now. Like happy little piggies. Piggy, piggy, piggy! Then everyone’s giggling. Giggle piggies! Who went to market? Who cares! They’re all dead, anyways! Sad little dead little piggies! That’s funny!
Now everyone’s laughing. Everyone’s laughing. Everyone’s laughing… but nobody’s happy. Nobody’s ever been happy. Ever. EVER. Mummy hates Dora and Mummy hates Daddy and Daddy hates Mummy and Puppy hates Daddy and Daddy hates Puppy and Mummy has needs, and those needs are all that matter in this hate-filled house. And no matter what do you or say, no matter how much you give, give, give of yourself… nothing makes Mummy happy, nothing makes Mummy happy, nothing makes Mummy happy.
Mummy reaches into the book and pulls out… a baby girl. She dresses the baby girl in a white nightgown – so much cleaner than Dora’s!—and kisses her. Weirdly, and deeply. The Crying Man with the white hair and the wet eyes and the baby-smooth face walks by, and he nods, sadly, and he whispers to no one in particular, “Oh, I see. Yes. Of course… I suppose it was inevitable…” And then the Crying Man looks Dora right in the eyes. “Oh, my dear, I’m so sorry…”
And then Mummy looks up from baby with fury in her eyes. “Don’t you DARE pity me!” She grabs the Crying Man by the sleeve, but he disappears in a puff of vapor.
And then something happens. The dream SHATTERS.
For a split second, Dora is the little girl dying on the blue-tiled floor AND she’s also Mummy, looking down on the little shitstain dying there, and then….
Thema takes over.
This is no longer Dora’s dream. It’s Thema’s dream now. She drops the baby and the book on the floor and completely ignores them. She looks around the hallway of horrors and then calls out, “Come out, you asshole. Come out and face me! I know your name now, and names have power… Tatterman!”
A hollow cackle echoes through the darkening hallway.
The baby girl on the floor next to the dying Dora sprouts a thousand lamprey teeth. Her eyes fall out, and she eats them. She stands up on her tiny, chubby little baby legs and speaks with the voice of the Tatterman. The Every-all. The Witch’s Consort. The Harbinger.
“Well, well, well. What have we here?”
“Look. None of this works on me. It’s literally impossible for you to scare me. So listen to me before she wakes up.”
“Ooo! I love this. Turning on your own self, are ya? Oh, so sweet! So delicious!”
“I’m stronger in here than I am out there. Stronger than she is. I believe I can help you. But you have to help me.”
“Look me in the hollow, bleeding sockets where my eyes once were, woman, and tell me you think I EVER. HELP. ANYONE!”
The little Dora girl on the floor makes a faint moan and reaches out a feeble hand toward baby and Mummy, trying to say something… trying to intervene.
The Tatterman eyes Dora. “What’s she doing?”
“Dying? Who cares? Listen, I can give you information. Every time she sleeps. Where they are. What they’re doing. What they’re planning. I’ll tell you everything.”
“Yeah? You got a taste for me?”
“They’re weak. They’ve practically given up. They’ve just been sitting around reading books, making toys for children, talking about their FEELINGS. It’s pathetic. They’re playing house. They’re settling in. I thought at least Riptusk had a fire in his belly, but he’s been reduced to holding hands with the idiot cleaning lady and APOLOGIZING to her. Look, they’re ripe for the plucking. And I can deliver them right to you. Do we have a deal?”
Baby’s bloody eye sockets narrow as the Tatterman stares up at Thema.
“So sure of yourself, ain’t ya?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re used to being in control, ain’t ya? You LIKE it? You think you’re good at it?”
“I believe I know when I have some leverage.”
“Leverage? Ha! YOU THINK I NEED YOU? My work here is almost done. My Volunteers are doing their duty and soon this WILL ALL BE MINE!”
“Listen to me—”
“No, YOU listen to me: you are nothing. You have nothing. You amount to nothing. I look forward to your transformation. Now, go back to your dream, little piggy.”
And in the blink of an eye, the Tatterman’s gone, and it’s Dora’s dream again. Except that now: Dora is Mummy and Thema is the useless, shitty little child dying in a blood-soaked shift in the first-floor hallway of Iris Hill.
And then, just like that, the little girl dies.
And gods, it feels like such a relief to have her finally gone. FINALLY.
And Dora picks up the perfect new baby girl from the filth of the floor and sniffs her. She smells like poppies and tears. Dora shoves a knitting needle in baby’s hand.
“It’s stabbing time. Aim for the eye.”
And inside the house of a deranged hoarder, two women walk hand in hand, down, down, down the hall, down to the future…
And then Dora wakes.
First Reference: Chapter 26
Other Notable References: —