The Skull Collector by Paris Singer
Published by Booktrope on November 17, 2015
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In a world in which children are exploited, monsters are saviors, and dark magic is constantly at play, a little girl will go to any lengths to be reunited with her lost ones.
After the disappearance of her parents, a heartbroken child is sold to the Doll-Maker who promises to revive them. In return, she is to travel from cemetery to cemetery, unearthing graves and collecting skulls.
While doing so, she must avoid the Violinist and his crows, who are determined to steal the skulls she has painstakingly gathered.
As she travels across the province, with her life in constant peril from vengeful policemen to furious villagers to strange creatures, the little girl must use her wits to succeed in her macabre mission.
Our story begins in the cradle of a little girl’s anguish and despair, without which there would be no tale to recount.
On a dark, stormy night, like on many others, we find her wailing inconsolably under the warming caress of a street light by the side of a nameless, muddy road. She cries, for her parents mysteriously vanished not a week ago, leaving her utterly, miserably alone.
As was the way of things in the quiet province she inhabited, should one disappear without first declaring it to the town hall, by way of application, one’s entire estate and contents would legally pass to the proper authorities. This instance being no different, the little girl’s home had been seized immediately and locked three times by its new owners. Alone in the world, the little girl had looked to the police sergeant for help.
“What is it?” he had barked.
Fighting to hold back her tears, the little girl had mustered nothing more than, “…Please, sir,” as she’d clutched dearly to the only possession she had left: a stuffed bear once given to her by her mother on her birthday.
The police sergeant had watched her briefly then, with softening eyes and a wry smile peering through his bushy moustache, he’d said, “I have a girl about your age.”
He’d knelt down beside her and patted the damp hair on her shivering head a little too hard.
Times being harsh for most and kindness deemed an ugly myth, there was no room for noble gestures or acts of compassion. This instance being no different, the police sergeant had suddenly snatched the little girl’s teddy bear from her freezing fingers.
“My daughter will love this, she will,” he’d said, as he stood and walked away from her to the police cart. “Let’s go, boys!”
The sound of whipping cracked the air and the horses at once began to gallop, sending a thick spray of mud from the wheels flying all over the little girl.
As tears flowed down her muddy, sodden cheeks, two glowing eyes emerged from the dark stillness of the night. Unblinking, they watched her a while, hanging like tiny, yellow orbs.
A moment later, the eyes began to etch closer and closer, until the shadowy figure of a thin man was revealed. His shabby attire was matched by an old cloth cap he wore on his head, which shrouded all facial features except his somewhat bulbous nose.
“What ‘ave we ‘ere, then?” he enquired. “Why are you crying, lil’ girl? Why all alone?” As he spoke, he seemed unaware that he was rubbing his hands together.
Her parents having taught her not to speak to strangers, the little girl felt hesitant about replying to him. As if reading her mind, the scrawny man said, “Oh, you can talk to me, lil’ girl, I won’t ‘arm ya. I’m just a concerned ci’izen looking to ‘elp ano’ver.”
Wanting to believe in the inherent good in people, the little girl replied, “My…My parents are gone, and I have nowhere to go, sir.” At her final word, the little girl burst into tears once again, as if her statement had somehow made events as cold and real as stone.
“Ooh, there, there,” said the man, drawing slowly closer to her. “Don’t you worry your lil’ ‘ead.
Squidge is ‘ere to ‘elp. I just so ‘appen to know someone who can ‘elp ya, if you’ll follow me.”
The little girl hesitantly considered his words and came to the conclusion she had no other choice but to follow him.
“That’s my girl!” exclaimed the wiry man contently, as he offered her his hand to hold.
As much as the little girl wanted to trust the wiry man, she felt uncomfortable with the idea of holding his hand, especially as the last one she had held had belonged to her mother, and she wanted to keep it that way.
“Suit you’self, Love. Come this way,” he grinned.
He led her into the cold darkness of empty streets to the tenebrous hollow of Midnight Forest, known throughout the province to contain terrible things beyond the mere imaginings of mortal beings. As such, a certain understanding was said to have been devised in times when magic and myths were created, that, should people refrain from crossing the boundary that led into the forest, no evil within would flow into the land of the living. That was what they believed and seemed to be content with.
“…Isn’t this the forest we are not supposed to go into?” asked the little girl, tentatively. “Oh, this? Nah, they’s just superstitions, they is. Load of cod’s wallop, if you ask me!”
The little girl walked as fast as she could to keep up with the man’s long, bandy legs, each stride of which like four of her own.
“Come on! ‘Is place isn’t far—if you know where you’re goin’, that is. ‘E doesn’t like bein’ disturbed, see?”
Endlessly into the forest they seemed to walk, as wooden pillars, like ever-reaching fingers, twisted in around them at every step and enormous toadstools shielded them from the moon’s gaze. As the little girl struggled to keep up, she tried not to focus on the strange crunching and squelching sounds underfoot, as she sliced her way through a dense sea of lightly blue fog.
The further they walked, the denser the forest appeared to be. Just as the little girl felt as though she would collapse from exhaustion, the man she followed came to a stop and announced,
“’Ere we are!”
Nearly walking straight into the back of his stringy legs, she felt a combination of relief and anxiety at the sight of what stood before her. An old, ramshackle structure appeared to barely stand, as the trees and brush coiled and climbed and covered most of its rusted corrugated walls; its roof was utterly smothered by a blanket of dead and dying leaves. Though the structure appeared dilapidated, it’s windows were whole and clean, a detail the little girl found quite odd. Beyond the windows, a flickering light somewhere within made shadows dance upon the walls and ceiling inside.
The thin, shabby man suddenly turned with a wide grin and gleefully spoke. “This, lil’ girl, is the Doll-Maker’s workshop.”
About the Author:
Paris Singer was born in Brussels, Belgium. He has lived in the U.K. and in various places in Spain, where he currently resides. At university, he studied English law and Spanish law. He didn’t like it. He then studied translation and didn’t like it, either. Currently, he is an English teacher in the south of Spain. He has far too many interests, he’s told, a few of which being sports, playing his old guitar, learning Japanese, painting, reading and cooking. Not a day goes by, however, where he doesn’t write something, be it under a palm tree or on a bench at a bus stop somewhere.
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