HOUSE OF 1000 HEADS

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
The new doctor in town has to deal with the skeletons (and skulls) in the old doctor's closet.

Submitted: September 21, 2010

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Submitted: September 21, 2010

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Two brittle magnolia trees stood watch over the Robinson estate, the right one taller than the left, both withered to nothing but a few scrappy leaves of the distinctive magnolia shape. The trees, dusky gray with peeling bark, looked dead, but the leaves were proof of the life still in them. These two trees were how folks could tell the Robinson place from the rest, with the house actually obscured by the endless groves of pines that gathered like the waves of the vast ocean.
Josie Robinson sat at the front of the jeep. “There it is, turn there,” she said, pointing to the obscured dirt driveway that melded with the dirt road on which they traveled. Between the two magnolias did the driveway pass, and the jeep followed along for a half-mile before finally reaching the front of the Robinson residence.
Dr. Will Rand, who sat in the backseat, was hesitant to call this place an estate. But that is what the locals called it, the Robinson estate, for some strange reason. This was no estate, this rundown shoddy shack, albeit large with numerous rooms. He resolved to call it a house, refusing the temptation locals would bring in calling it something it certainly was not. “Miss Robinson, have you had any inclination to refurbish your familial residence?” he asked Josie.
“Please call me Josie. Dr. Rand, I have a family and a house of my own, and soon my husband’s job will be transferred to St. Louis, and it would be too much for me to stay here in Mississippi while he was up north.”
“Josie, I’d like to thank you for allowing our new doctor to stay at your family home until he gets his practice up and running,” Mayor Vince Harland said from behind the wheel. “Dr. Rand, welcome to Picksville. I know it’s small, but we definitely have a need of your services.”
“Well I appreciate your welcome, Mayor Harland.”
“Bah, call me Vince.” The mayor got out and pulled out Will’s bags, and Will took a couple himself. The details they gave him over the phone were not many, but they piqued his curiosity and Will was eager to help. Dr. Robinson had been the area’s doctor for years. This was a rural community the townsfolk called Picksville, in a remote corner of Mississippi. Will was just done with his residency and thought it would be good to gain experience as a rural doctor.
Dr. Robinson was not a local. He had been born in Atlanta and went to school there. He met his wife, Ruby Marie Robinson, while they were undergraduate students at the University of Jackson. They married in his first year of med school. He decided to open his practice in the small town where his wife was from, as the folks had to travel quite a ways to seek medical attention. The people quickly forgot about Dr. Robinson’s big city upbringing when they witnessed his selfless dedication to his neighbors’ health. Will had quite the shoes to fill in this forgotten town of the Deep South.
“I know it’s not much, doctor, but you’re welcome to stay here as long as you need,” Josie said as she turned the key. A faint, musty smell of death instantly filled the nostrils of all those present, leading them to think that perhaps an animal had died underneath the house somewhere.
“When was the last time you came in here?” Will asked Josie.
“Years ago. I only have a key because we asked our locksmith, Mr. Dell, to open the door so we could investigate that stench. I’m so sorry about that, Dr. Rand. We’ve tried everything to get the smell out.”
“Ah, that’s all right. I’m not too bothered by it,” he lied. The murky interior of the house was covered in cobwebs and refuse. It appeared that some kids had gotten in and spray painted graffiti on some of the walls. The darkness was amplified by the overgrown shrubs that covered the windows.
“I’ll try to have someone over to take care of the property this week,” Josie said apologetically. “Daddy must have been in quite a state toward the end,” she said, almost to herself, as she rifled through the contents of the house, which actually was nearly bare.
“Oh, that’s all right. I was kind of hoping to tackle it myself, actually,” Will said.
“Doctor, I’ve let Southcast Communications know that the house would be requiring a phone connection and I’m guessing you’d like cable television. They said they would be here in the morning. The electric company has already connected the power, so they said.” Josie turned a switch on and the light came to life. “Mayor Vince, could you give me a ride back home? Marcus is coming home in the morning and I need to get the place ready.” Vince agreed to give Josie a ride home, and as it was getting dark quickly at that point, made his goodbyes to Dr. Rand fast.
“Oh, Vince, one thing. Could you give me a ride in the morning into town? I need to get a rental car until my own car gets shipped in. Thank you so much.” Josie left Will the key to the house and said goodbye. Will was finally alone in the house, and he decided he would explore the place to get to know it better. He looked through the many rooms in the house and all throughout he felt a sense of foreboding, unknown dread permeating through the air. He had gone upstairs and that sense had gotten nearly palpable, the strange awkward atmosphere, coupled with the smell of decay, had gotten overly oppressive, to the point that Will began to sweat profusely and breathe heavily. On the second floor, on either side of the stairs were two rooms. Will had gone into the two rooms to the right of the stairs, and these were largely empty. The dread feeling increased dramatically as he entered one of the rooms on the left of the stairs, and he began to shake as he approached the other room on the left. Just as he was about to grasp the doorknob, the doorbell rang. Will ran downstairs and opened it.
“Hi, we’re from Lee’s Furniture. Mayor Vince ordered a bed for you. We’re here to deliver it,” the deliveryman said.
“Come in, come in,” Will said.
“So, you’re the doc that’s going to replace old Dr. Robinson?” the deliveryman said. His round body was barely covered by his cadet blue coveralls, stitched with the name “Don” on it in red thread.
“Well, in a way, yes. I am the new doctor here in Picksville. But I’m not replacing Dr. Robinson in a sense.”
“I heard he disappeared. He’d been up in this place for forty years, just going out to people’s houses whenever they were sick, and coming right back. Look at this place! It’s emptier than a pocket with a hole in it. Hey, I got a joke, how come a pocket with a hole is never empty?”
“I don’t know. Why?”
“Because it has a hole in it! Get it?” The deliveryman slapped his knee and roared at his joke. “Hey Dennis, y’all fixin’ to bring that bed in? I’ll be right there.” He turned to Will. “Hey doc…”
“You can call me Will, or Dr. Rand.”
“Okay, Dr. Rand, are you going to do something about the smell in here? You’d think Dr. Robinson himself died in this place.” The deliveryman did not wait for Will to answer; he bounded back to the truck to help the other deliveryman move the bed in. Pretty soon, Will followed him out.
“Hey, did you know Dr. Robinson at all?”
“Sure I did. He was my doctor all my life.”
“So what happened? Do you know?”
“No, I don’t know, for sure. But what I’ve heard was that ever since his wife died, he’s sort of lost his nut. He wouldn’t do anything at all except go take care of the sick, then come back, lock himself in his house, and that’s it. You could call him, and he’d answer just like that. But then one day, he stopped answering the phone. People were sick and we had no doctor to speak of. We started calling Calico, but that’s an hour away, you know what I’m saying? That’s too much for a doctor to travel. We needed our own.”
Will directed them where he wanted the bed to be placed. The movers gently placed the bed as directed. “So how long ago did his wife die?”
“I don’t know, twenty years or so, I guess.”
“And what was his temperament towards the end?”
“No problem. Really quiet. He would come in, put the stethoscope on you and he would say such that you couldn’t even hear it: ‘breathe’. And then he hardly said anything, write down a prescription and go home. Then he just up and disappeared.”
“Is that right? Just left everything.”
“I guess. No one really knows, though. Same thing sort of happened to Josie’s grandfather. Josie was in my class, and one day she didn’t go to school. Turns out her grandparents had disappeared. Her mom’s mom and dad were nowhere to be found. Old Mr. Morris used to be a tanner and a doll maker, and when Josie’s mom married Dr. Robinson, they all moved in together in her parents’ house. We always heard they didn’t get along with Dr. Robinson, but they all kept living together. Then one day, they disappeared.”
“Anyone know why?”
“Well they say it had something to do with the dolls Mr. Morris made. He made them at the same place where he tanned the leather, and every girl that got a doll, the doll looked just like them, well those girls they all died. And they were ready to run the whole family out of town, but I doubt they were because Dr. Robinson was very popular and well-liked, in spite of his father-in-law. But Dr. Robinson couldn’t explain the dead girls. Then the Morrises disappear, and then a year later, Mrs. Robinson disappeared too. Well, I got to get going, Dr. Rand.  To be honest, this old place gives me the creeps. I’ll see you later.” The delivery van drove away in a cloud of dust.
The sun was nearly done setting, with a bright orange sliver still eavesdropping on the horizon. Will returned to the house. No cable, no phone, but power in an otherwise empty home. That feeling of awkward tremor returned to him as he again ascended the stair to the second floor. That awful dreading of imminent abomination heightened, as if hearing his own heartbeat pulse more accelerated in his ear. He took a step to the left at the top of the stair this time, back to the room he had intended to enter before. In the time it took him to ascend to the landing, then arrive at the left-hand room, night had fallen completely, and through the window at the other end of the hall, Will could see the intermittent twinkle of distant stars. At the door, he reached for the knob; upon grasping it, the slow pulse of his heart that had steadily intensified since the departure of the movers approached a maximum decibel to the point where everything else seemed to be drowned out. He turned the knob and slowly opened the door. The room was bare, except for a triangular bookshelf that took up the back corner. Will turned on the light to the room, a switch to the right of the door, and a small desk lamp that sat on the bookshelf lit up. The paltry light it afforded was certainly an improvement over the darkness only challenged by the hallway light. Will swallowed hard and stepped in. The heartbeat continued to drown out his thoughts. He approached the bookshelf and made an effort of pushing it away from the wall, eventually succeeding. Behind the bookshelf was an opening, roughly cut into the sheetrock and unadorned with any crown molding or other embellishment. A meager light emanated from the secret room as well, matching the intensity of the light that came from the lamp on the shelf. The curious secret seemed to push away the heavy sound of Will’s pulse, but the stench that wafted through the house was heaviest here, by far. Clearly the animal must have died here, Will thought.
Will crept into the room. The light came from a small unshaded bulb in the near corner, and a cord extended to the bookshelf, as if the switch controlled both the lamp on the shelf and the bulb in the secret compartment. The room was long, the entire length of the house, and narrow, only four feet across. On the floor was a layer of wood shavings a good couple of inches thick. In the dark corner there sat an innumerable quantity of spheres, difficult to make out in the absence of light back there. Will got closer and picked up one of the spheres. By how it felt in his hands and by estimating its density, he surmised that it was made of wood. He brought the sphere closer to the light and gasped when he made out the details: carved upon the wooden sphere were highly detailed, extremely lifelike images of eyes, nose, and mouth. The resemblance to an actual human face was uncanny and astonishing. Will dropped the wooden head in shock at what he saw, and it rolled down towards the other heads. His senses came back when he realized that the orbs were merely wooden, not actual human skulls, although this did little to help assuage his anxiety. Nevertheless, the exhausted doctor, who had traveled quite a bit and had an eventful day, fell asleep on his glorious new mattress, and no bump in the night would rouse his slumber.
In the morning, Will was startled awake to knocking on the front door. Mayor Vince had arrived to give Will a ride to town to pick up his rental car. “Come on in, Mayor,” Will said. He took the Mayor up to the second floor, and as they passed the mattress, Will thanked him profusely for it. At the door to the room, Will began his explanation of the night before, turning on the light and moving the bookshelf. “That’s when I found these,” he explained. He went to the back of the room and picked up a head, then handed it to Mayor Vince.
“Well Good Lord, if that isn’t Walter McDermott. He was my daughter’s elementary school principal. That man’s been dead for years.” Mayor Vince picked up another wooden head. “And my God, that’s the spitting image of Caroline Longworth, the old librarian. She’s been dead even longer than McDermott. Well, hell, look at all those heads! There’s got to be hundreds of them.”
“Neighborhood of a thousand,” Will estimated. “What do you think this is all about?”
“This is completely new to me. So old man Doc Robinson had a horde of carved wooden heads of images of dead locals so lifelike it would pass as their actual heads? I honestly had no idea.”
“Does Josie know about this room?”
“I’m not sure, but man alive, the smell in here is enough to make her wilt. I’m sure this is where that danged animal crept up and died.”
“Mayor Vince, I’m worried that the smell is not emanating from an animal.”
“What do you mean? You think it’s human?” he said, suddenly somber and stern.
“Just a suspicion.”
“Then we have to pinpoint the source of the odor and confirm whether it was animal or human. Why look, here’s old Miss Robinson, the doctor’s wife. He even carved a head out of his own dear wife.” The two men wandered deeper into the secret room. They made their way through the heads, gently pushing them aside. At last they got to the back wall. The smell was absolutely overpowering.
“Look at that,” Will said.
“That looks like a trap door,” said Mayor Vince. Two simple holes, each about an inch in diameter and an inch apart, were drilled into the floorboards. The mayor stuck his fingers inside and pulled the panel out. A wall of decrepit, fetid reek wafted up into their nostrils, and when the split-second shock of that ebbed away, the more heavily seated shock came soon after, that of seeing a dead body in the space between the floorboards.
“Good God!” Mayor Vince exclaimed.
“What the hell?” Will said.
“That looks like Dr. Robinson,” Mayor Vince revealed. “Here he’s been, dead all this time.”
“And he’s got another head in his hands,” Will observed. Mayor Vince looked closer at the head to see if he could recognize it.
“Clearly, he’s carved out his own image on that piece of wood,” Mayor Vince confirmed. “That’s his own head.”
“I’m calling 911,” Will offered. After the county coroner took the body away and assured the Mayor and Will that he was sure there was no foul play, everyone had left, leaving Will alone again in the house. Then he realized he had not yet rented that car. But it was too late; he fell asleep again on his luxurious new mattress.
In the morning, Will did not recognize the room he was in. Then it dawned on him that he was in the secret room, precisely in the location where Dr. Robinson’s body lay yesterday. When Will realized this, he jumped out of the spot, nearly knocking his head on the trap door above, and suddenly a wooden head rolled out of his lap. He picked it up but did not recognize who it was. He called Mayor Vince, who came down right away and looked. “Oh, that’s Tom Winston. But he’s alive, as far as I can tell.”
“This head was carved and sitting in my lap when I got up this morning,” Will explained. “I don’t even know where I got the knife, which was sitting in my hand when I woke up.”
After the Mayor left, Will took a tour of the property. Way in the back, by the old pond that was six feet short of drying up, Will found an old shack that had seen far better days. This must have been the location of tannery, as he saw some old cow skulls and other animal remains. But there was one set of bones that he was 99 percent sure were human bones, and a thrill of fear charged up his spine again. He ran as fast as he could to the house, and called for the coroner’s office to come see his discovery, so they could perform the necessary steps. Soon the coroner arrived, and Will spent most of his day dealing with them, as they were able to find what appeared to be several femurs and pelvic bones. When they’d left, he felt compelled to look at the faces again, the ones carved on the wooden heads.
He was up in the secret room, lost to the world, when he barely heard the faintest of knocking. He shook off the trance and ran downstairs. It had gotten to a point of furious knocking. He opened the door, and a young stood at it.
“Are you the new doc? I’ve been standing here for 15 minutes, sir,” the young man said.
“I’m sorry, I was in a place in the house I could barely hear anything. How can I help you?”
“Doc, you’ve got to come with me. My dad is not feeling well at all. I’ll take you to the house.” The young man drove as Will sat in the passenger seat. He introduced himself as Jordan Winston, and his father Tom suddenly felt pangs of pain throughout his abdomen. When they got there, Will ran as fast as possible to Tom’s side, asked the necessary questions, and felt his abdomen.
“Have you eaten winterchar?” Will asked Tom.
“What’s that?”
“It’s a poisonous plant. It grows in the Deep South, but it’s rare even around there. It looks like collard greens but it tastes sweet compared to its bitterness.”
“Matter of fact, I did make Tom a bunch of collard greens as part of his lunch today,” his wife, Linda, said.
“Is there any left?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Put it in a plastic baggy and give it to me. We’ll run some tests on it. Meanwhile, we’re going to need some really strong coffee, as strong as you can make it. And it’s got to be black. No cream, no sugar.” Will looked at Tom’s face, and he was unnerved at the similarity that the carved head in his hands earlier that day struck with this poor fellow, dying of winterchar poisoning. “He’s got to drink as much of it as he can, until the pain goes away.” It was clear to Will that Tom Winston, with his cold sweats, fever, abdominal pain, and seizures, was experiencing the effects of eating winterchar. But after several hours, the fever had not broken, and his condition became worse. By 11 o’clock that night, Tom was dead.
Will trudged home, withdrawn because his first patient in Picksville did not survive under his care. The walk may have been long, but he didn’t know the time it took him to get back to the Robinson ancestral home. Feeling the exhaustion of a long day and unsuccessful treatment, Will collapsed on his mattress and fell asleep within a minute, not even giving him enough time to once again note to himself the sheer comfort of lying on the worthy bed.
Come morning, Will was awakened by the thunderous sound of hammering resonating throughout the near empty house. The repairmen that Josie hired were here, Will thought. His waking eyes darted around, only to realize that once again, he was not rising from his own comfortable bed, but was in the same place where they found Dr. Robinson only days before. He looked down at his lap, expecting to see another wooden head. His expectations were met, seeing yet another new head, again unfamiliar, this time that of a female, older lady, appearing to be about in her late 50s to early 60s. He slid the trap door out and arose with the head in his hands. He was about to walk out the secret room when he dropped the head on the floorboards. The head bounced once on the old floor with a disgusting thud, then rolled toward the other heads. Will methodically went back toward the head and picked up again, trying once more to leave the secret room with sphere in hand. This time it was as if the head squirted out of his hands and hit the floor rolling, no thud, no bounce, just wheeling away. He decided not to pursue trying to figure out why all this was happening. Now he was utterly determined to get a rental car, and he was walking into town by hook or by crook.
On the way to the rental agency, Will stopped at Kimberly’s Café, which seemed to be the happening place this morning, considering all the cars parked outside. He walked in and saw a crowd of people huddled around Mayor Vince, who was sitting at the counter. His hand rubbed his forehead in desperation. He saw Will approaching; Will smiled at the Mayor, but the Mayor only peered angrily at Will, a piercing stare meeting the new doctor. “What’s going on?” Will asked, his smile quickly fading from his face.
“Where were you last night?”
“What? What do you mean? I was asleep.”
“We went to the Robinson’s last night looking for you, around 2 this morning. My sister Eliza was bit by a cottonmouth. She’s in a lot of trouble. They had to send for an ambulance from Calico to come get her. Man, doc, you really disappointed us.”
“Wait, I was at home. I didn’t leave the house. I was taking care of Tom Winston all day yesterday, and when I got home, I must have passed out.”
“Well you got a funny way of passing out then, because we all got to your place and were knocking for a good solid hour, and there you were standing in your second floor room just laughing your head off, dancing and carrying on like you were on some sort of voodoo trip. HA HA HA! Passed out, huh?”
Suddenly, Mayor Vince’s daughter Clare arrived at the café, in hysterics. “Daddy, listen. We just got word from Calico. We lost her. Auntie Eliza’s gone.” Both father and daughter began to weep. Will wasn’t sure if he should say anything about the wooden head to Mayor Vince, because he wasn’t sure if it was really Eliza’s head that was carved into that piece of wood this morning. So he kept quiet about that. Will offered his apologies and excused himself. He instantly wanted to know the results of bone findings by the tannery. He went to the Sheriff’s station.
“Well, sure they’re human bone,” the deputy said. “That’s easy for the coroner to figure out. But the hard part is figuring out whose bones they are. They won’t have a DNA profile for weeks.” Uncertain of what to do, Will returned to the Robinson house. He went back up to the secret room and looked around under the wood shavings that littered the room. Inside, he found a very old writing pad, a good fifty years old. The first half of the writing pad was used as a diary, eloquently written by Josie’s grandfather, Washington Morris. It spoke of the new water that had been percolating in the tanning area, that ever since the great rock fell from the sky and into the pond, it’s been completely different. Mr. Morris began making dolls from the trees by the pond, and the dolls would move their eyes and turn their heads on their own. But then, after a dozen little girls got dolls, they began to die, and they started blaming Mr. Morris. He had become a pariah in the community, until Mrs. Morris, Josie’s grandmother, disappeared. Then it became gibberish, nonsense words put together, with the occasional “Oh Grace,” and “Dearest Grace,” and “Would I that we trade places,” and other brief moments of clarity. Soon the gibberish disappeared, giving way to Dr. Robinson’s notes, usually professional, but peppered with references to his personal life, as talking about his father-in-law’s catatonia, his daughter’s birth, and his wife’s disappearance, before these too devolved into muttering ramblings and occasional “Ruby, come back to me,” or other such sentiment, until the pages became blank again.
It was clear now that some strange virus or other microscopic creature rode along on the “great rock” of a meteorite that had fallen from the sky. Then this agent caused the illness and death to a dozen local girls, and because the virus or whatever was alien, Dr. Robinson could not pinpoint why it was that the girls were dying. But by the contents of some of Dr. Robinson’s comments, he suspected that the meteorite tagalong had a preternatural understanding of who was to die next, as was revealed in the carvings of the heads of the dead-to-be. Will resolved himself to look deep into the pond, to see if he could identify the offending meteorite, and with these thoughts, he fell asleep.
In the morning, Will remembered that he had fallen asleep in the secret room, this time among the wood shavings, so he was not surprised when he saw his surroundings. But he remembered what he had devised the day before, about the meteorite that infected several people, including contributing to the madness of Mr. Morris and Dr. Robinson. And he eagerly awaited the day, looking forward to searching deep into the pond and extracting the foul space rock. But what took Will aback harder than anything since his stay in Picksville began sat simply before him, silently smiling, shining its obliviousness at Will, freshly sanded and smooth. Because the absolute fright given to Will made him think he was looking at glass; what he saw was a precise replica of his own face.
Will’s hair stood on end. He wailed incoherently, and stomped his way down the stairs. He walked as fast as he could, overcome with shock at his imminent death. He was never heard from again.
The townsfolk began looking for their new doctor, and although they were unsuccessful, they were able to detect the secret room, and in that room, although the doctor was nowhere to be found, there, amidst the other skulls and woodshavings, was a lifelike wood carved head of Dr. Will Rand, laying peacefully at rest in the house of 1000 heads.


© Copyright 2018 Peter Amaral. All rights reserved.

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