The Indian Doll House

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Is it a homicide if the perpetrator is an inanimate object?

I am sitting on my back patio watching the pyre on my barbecue grill. I used two bags of charcoal briquettes, one beneath and one atop the crushed remains of the doll house. I poured on a pint can of starter fluid. There was no finesse to it. I simply threw my lit Zippo lighter on the explosive mound. After all, I wouldn't be needing it anymore.

I ease back and open my last, ice-cold bottle of Dixie beer, Blacked Voodoo lager. It strikes me as appropriate to my situation. As a dead man lounging, I might as well enjoy my final few moments while the flames consume the accursed abomination that brought me to such an untimely end.

The beer goes down cool and refreshing. It is quite a contrast to my feverish brow, a pleasant break from the scratchy rash that has made a hideous mask of my face, a mask that even I myself would no longer recognize. At the very least, it gives me some solace while I speculate, if I have gotten my facts straight, that I will be the last of a long list of people who have died this way.

My report is on the desk inside the house. I have to presume that detective Chang will close the case. I suppose the documentation will end up in the archives, unread for the remainder of all time. That's probably for the best. Nobody is ever going to believe it anyway.

Meanwhile, not yet having breathed my last breath, I am going over my raw notes. I am wondering if my report is complete or if I have missed something important. I will not get any more chances to make revisions, so I want to be absolutely sure I have it right.

It began on Wednesday, August 12th, when local residents reported a gas leak in the 4500 block of Meadowdale Street. The utility company sent a supervisor to the address to determine the source of the problem. He ascertained that the smell was not gas but rotting flesh. Looking into a front window, he spotted a body on the den floor and notified the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department.

I arrived prepared to investigate a possible homicide. That was pretty much a waste of time. From the moment I entered the place, my instincts told me the house was likely not a crime scene and certainly not the site of a violent crime. Quite unlike the diabolically clever fiends in the British detective novels, Louisiana murderers are a messy lot. They leave behind lots of blood and gore, bullet holes and shell casings, however, this abode was as neat as a pin, like the pretty pictures in the homes and gardens magazines.

The deceased was one Dr. Phyllis Gautreaux, Associate Professor of History, Loyola University in New Orleans. It was unfortunate that she lived alone and was on class break when she died. Not being missed, her body had plenty of time to decay, about ten days from the looks of it, and the stain left by her leaking bodily fluids on the hardwood floor would be tough to remove when her heirs try to sell the house.

Although I was convinced that no crime had been committed, I was disturbed by the bizarre scene in the den. It appeared as if the doctor had died while attempting to incinerate a doll house in her fireplace. She was only partially successful. Figuring that it might prove to be important, I took numerous photos from every possible angle and sealed the remains in evidence bags.

The only other interesting thing I found was a thick manuscript, an unpublished historical tome titled The Indian Doll House. It was so large that I couldn't read it all at work, so I took it home to burn some midnight oil.

Nearly half of the book was devoted to footnotes which cited documentation such as ships' logs, news articles, death certificates, private letters and diaries. If nothing else, Dr. Gautreaux was very thorough in doing her research. Furthermore, she was an excellent author. Other than the technical stuff, the story read like any good mystery/adventure novel. I was so engrossed that I stayed up overnight unable to stop turning the pages. At most, given the short amount of time I have left in this world, I am only able to touch on the highlights.

The steamship S.S. Van der Hooft departed Rotterdam on 10 May 1940, the day the Germans invaded the Netherlands during World War II. She was bound for the safety of Batavia in the Dutch East Indies. Along the way, she spotted a derelict clipper ship about 400 miles west of the Cape of Good Hope. Under the Law of the Sea salvage rules, the Van der Hooft would be entitled to half of the ship's cargo, so a boarding party was sent to investigate. They found the vessel deserted with one lifeboat missing. The men broke into the captain's cabin in search of the clipper's manifest. There, they discovered a rotting corpse and the captain's journal. Fearing that German commerce raiders were prowling the south Atlantic, the Van der Hooft left the area without claiming the derelict prize.

The flight to Batavia proved to be a fool's errand. In March 1942, the Japanese occupied Indonesia. The S.S. Van der Hooft was confiscated and her crew was arrested. Neither survived the war. The ship was sunk by American carrier aircraft during the Battle of the Coral Sea, and the men died in labor camps. Nonetheless, the documentation survived the war and wound up in the U.S. Library of Congress.

The first mention of the doll house was in the captain's journal of the derelict clipper ship. She, the sailing vessel Nossa Senhora da Piedade (Our Lady of Pity), had been docked at the Portuguese colony of Goa in India when an Englishman approached the gangway. He claimed to be one Alistair Fairworthy, a major in His Majesty's Bengal Lancers. He was seeking passage to any port in Europe that was not occupied by Axis forces. He was willing to pay the fare in British sovereigns (gold coins).

His Indian porters brought his steamer trunk aboard the Piedade. His only other possession was a teak wood box that he kept in close contact at all times, even going so far as to sit on it while he partook his meals. The crew naturally assumed it contained his valuables. They wondered if the box was perhaps filled with gold or jewels. Their curiosity worried the captain who began to fear for Fairworthy's safety.

Two weeks into the voyage, Fairworthy took ill. He came down with a fever, and his face broke out in an awful rash. The crew was fearful that he might have the plague. The captain was unable to control the mob that formed and tossed the unfortunate major overboard still alive, however, he did manage to confiscate the mystery box.

Inside, the captain found a stack of intricately carved rosewood slats. Once assembled, they made a doll house in the Mogul style, not unlike the Taj Mahal. It came complete with miniature furniture and ivory figurines - a maharaja, several concubines, a couple of tigers and a cute baby elephant about the size of a mouse.

Later, the journal mentions that the captain had come down with a rash. His men were in mutiny. They had sealed him in his cabin and had nailed the door shut. The captain speculated whether he would die from the disease or starve to death. The journal does not mention the eventual outcome. After all, dead men tell no tales.

The next mention was in an article in the New Orleans Picayune newspaper from 1949. It was a feature on the Doll House Shoppe in the 600 block of Royal Street in the French Quarter. As the name implied, the store specialized in high-end merchandise, exquisite and pricy antiques from exotic places like Bavaria and the Orient, things like Black Forest gingerbread houses and Chinese pagodas, along with more common items like Victorian mansions and Southern plantation homes, doll houses to please any taste. The displays were quite dazzling, but the Indian doll house was the most spectacular of them all. It alone was not for sale. It was the prized possession of the owner, the owner whose death certificate lists smallpox as the reason for his demise.

Dr. Gautreaux's manuscript goes on to list several subsequent owners who are mentioned in private letters and diaries, all duly recorded in the footnotes. Every one of them died under similar circumstances, only the causes of their deaths were chalked up to various things like measles, bubonic plague and in one case the bite of a poisonous spider. Clearly, no one before Gautreaux had made the connection between the doll house and the mystery disease.

Eventually, Dr. Gautreaux, using her best research skills, tracked the doll house to the attic of a home in the Garden District. Somehow, she managed to convince the elderly couple who lived there to sell her the doll house in its unopened box. She then tried to destroy it in the fireplace at her house on Meadowdale Street. As her body was found in an advanced state of decay, there is no way to know the cause of her death.

I started feeling ill last night. This morning, I noticed red blotches breaking out on my face. Since I was the only person to touch the Indian doll house during the investigation, I knew what I had to do. I went to the property clerk at police headquarters and checked out the evidence bags. Sure, I know it's against the law to destroy the thing, but higher forces are at play in this case. It is my fiduciary responsibility to humankind to rid the world of this menace. Besides, what are they going to do about it? The last I heard, they don't try corpses in Louisiana courts.

The beer bottle is empty. The last drop was as delicious as the first, and I now find myself fully prone, looking straight up at the clouds. I am wondering what it will be like on the far side of the great divide. Other than feeling a little itchy, this isn't a bad way to go.

Copyright © 2012 - 2015 W.C. Bell; All rights reserved.


Submitted: August 09, 2015

© Copyright 2022 Whiskey Charlie. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:

Comments

Jack Motley

Your horror skills and knowledge of military-related and Southern subjects is what makes your writing so enjoyable to read, Whiskey. It has a great flavor, like good regional, well, whiskey, Whiskey!

We really need to get you more readers you truly deserve.

What's your mind on being pimped a bit to other potential readers? Would you perhaps prefer to gain more readership by your own means?

Lemme know, please.

~Jack

Sun, August 9th, 2015 1:32pm

Author
Reply

Thanks for the kind comments, Jack. No, I do not want my writings 'pimped'. I am happy to let them be discovered (or not) on their own. The key to this story is not my personal knowledge but my willingness to do research. For instance, I needed two fictional ships' names, one Dutch and one Portuguese. Not speaking either language, I had to put in a ton of effort to come up with fake names that could actually exist in the real world. Research also save me from a major faux pas. I thought Blackened Voodoo lager was a product of the Abita Brewing Company, but, at the last minute, I discovered it was actually a Dixie Beer label. Plus, the Doll House store at 620 Royal Street in the French Quarter really was in business in 1949. It is completely forgotten in the historic records, but ole Whiskey has a long memory.

Sun, August 9th, 2015 7:46am

B Douglas Slack

This was quite a tale, Charlie. It seems as if youd done a ton of research but, after reading your response to jack, I am even more impressed. Tale-telling is an art, and you've honed it to a fine point. ~Tom

Sun, August 9th, 2015 4:28pm

Author
Reply

Thank you for the kind comments, Tom. I value accuracy. I hate it when people write fantasy or science fiction where they can make up just anything without having to know what they are talking about. For instance, in this story, I had to determine that the Battle of the Coral Sea happened long enough after the Japanese occupation of Indonesia that a captured ship (the S.S. Van der Hooft) could have time to reach the Coral Sea. Also, to be nasty, I put in some inaccuracies just to see if people are paying attention. For instance, I (the detective in the story) investigated the house on Wednesday, August 12th. Get it? That date (as I write this reply) is in the future, and so the story can't have happened yet.

Sun, August 9th, 2015 11:11am

Chris Green

Your attention to detail is exemplary, Whiskey Charlie and this makes any story you put up interesting and informative. I think the best thing of all though is the way you always find a way to deliver a perfect ending. Nice job.
Regards
Chris

Sun, August 9th, 2015 6:55pm

Author
Reply

Thank you, Chris. This is a complete rewrite of one of my earlier attempts at fiction. I once had a professional writer tell me his three-step secret: 1.) Start bold and dramatic; 2.) don't get overly boring in the body; 3.) end with something unique or memorable. Basically, although I'm not always successful, I concentrate on the opening and closing and let the middle fill in the *yawn* details.

Sun, August 9th, 2015 12:16pm

Vance Currie

I have commented before on your ability to make a story seem true, even when logic says that it can't be. This is almost certainly a result of the research that you do, combined with your writing skill and your experience of life. I don't mind fantasy but it has to be credible fantasy. (Disney used to aim for 'the credible impossible', which seems like a contradiction, but it isn't.) My style is quite different to yours, but I am glad to know someone else who believes in the importance of research. I use Google a lot when I am writing. ~ Joe

Sun, August 9th, 2015 9:32pm

Author
Reply

Thanks for the read, Joe. I don't think that there is anything else I can say about the importance of research that I have not already said.

Sun, August 9th, 2015 3:26pm

Joseph Mark

Great story! It's amazing how cursed objects can often go undetected for many years. This story remind me of three Friday the 13th series. Hopefully the protagonist got rid of that doll house once and for all before dying.

Mon, August 10th, 2015 2:50pm

Author
Reply

Thanks for the read, Joseph. I never saw Friday the 13th, so I haven't a clue what you're talking about.

Mon, August 10th, 2015 8:19am

Jason Crager

This is such an entertaining read. Interesting, informative, and positively creepy. A horror story as told first hand by a victim who did not survive the tale. Very well done.

Wed, August 19th, 2015 2:29am

Author
Reply

Thank you for the kind comments, Ronin. This was a complete rewrite of one of my early stories. Maybe next time around, I'll finally get it right.

Tue, August 18th, 2015 7:57pm

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