Dan MacRae: The Dollmaker’s Grin [excerpt 2 from the novella]

Image by Dan MacRae

The dispatcher told Driver 8083 there were ten guests ready for pickup at the retrieval station. Kurt put the shuttle bus in drive. The engine shook in violent spasms as it moved forward on the snow and ice. The tires were bald and skidded on icy patches that were worse in the parking lot, but improved as the rumbling machine gravitated closer and closer to the airport. He took a deep breath, exhaled. He shut the radio off. A part of him was in bed sleeping, thinking of the bedroom door opening. The warmth of the painkillers soaked into his being at the apex of his skull. They tingled. His mouth felt dry. He was ready to drive and not think. To not think and to lose the awareness of self, he stared at his brown eyes for a moment in the rearview mirror, then at the red spots of acne on his forehead, raising his chin to get a view of his thickening beard.

The shuttle bus drifted to the curb and the brakes squeaked to a halt. There were two families: one had three members and the other had four. They were let on first and he managed to put their large suitcases on a rack behind the driver’s seat. The first family had a three-year-old girl and Kurt shoved their bags and her stroller onto the rack. The father looked away and commented to his wife that the driver was being too aggressive with the luggage. The second family was less hassle.

When Kurt climbed down the shuttle bus stairs, the next guest was a tall guy with black, curly hair, flushed cheeks, and a faint mustache. He held a hard-shell suitcase, a backpack around his shoulders covered by a leather jacket, and another hard-shall case for his golf clubs by his boots.

“Can you help me already, buddy?”

“Yes, I’ll be right with you.”


“Right now.”

“Good, right now. Why am I still holding a fucking suitcase?”

Kurt took the case from his hands and went up into the shuttle, and set it on the bottom rack.

“There’s another one!” The man yelled, laughed. “Don’t forget now! On the ground over here! Getting covered in fucking snow! Don’t forget my fucking golf clubs, too! Thank you!”

“I won’t!”

“Oh, you won’t. That’s good because your customer service sucks dick! This guy’s worse than my wife. Except I can’t divorce his ass. Divorce. It sucks. It sucks when you’re still going through it, right?”

The tall guy elbowed and winked at the well-dressed black man standing behind him. The well-dressed man wore an impeccable gray suit with a purple tie and a black wool coat. He was unfazed by the temperature. On his right hand, on the middle finger was a silver and onyx ring with a Nightjar etched in the center. His head was shaved and he had a faint goatee. His dark brown eyes flickered at the chance of seeing conflict, but not to be involved in it. He held a briefcase and said, “Please do not elbow me again, sir.”

The tall guy shook his head. Spitting on the pavement.

Kurt turned around to go on the shuttle bus with the golf clubs when the tall guy screamed, “Here! Like my fuckin’ wife! Take everything! Take my fuckin’ backpack!”

The tall guy slammed the backpack with full force at the back of Kurt’s head, at the base of his skull and spine. The tall guy swiped him again and again at different points on the back and shoulders. Kurt fell forward onto the icy pavement with the ice water soaking through his gloves. The golf clubs slammed against the bus. In the moment, Kurt felt his fingers trembling. Bored, the tall guy kicked him in the ass and Kurt fell forward five feet to the right, away from the front of the bus. His felt gloves were now torn, fingers bloodied.

“Get up, you dramatic idiot. I didn’t hit you that hard, you fucking pussy,” the tall guy remarked with a self-satisfied grin. Becoming hasty to flee the scene, he went up into the shuttle bus and found the suitcase, and attempted to leave with the backpack and suitcase, then fetch the golf clubs. When the tall guy came down the stairs, Kurt jumped him. They both fell backward into the bus with the tall guy holding onto the suitcase. Kurt whipped him out of the bus and the tall guy hit the pavement losing his footing, falling forward, cutting open his chin.

Crashing onto the freezing pavement the suitcase spilled open to a bunch of old porn magazines, along with plastic bottles of heating gels and erotic ointments. A Fleshlight. Each magazine that flipped open showcased a tiny ad for: Jackknife Does Women, Part 4. An Underground Detroit Porno Production.

The tall guy turned over onto his back and held his bleeding chin.

Kurt picked him up by his leather jacket and punched him in the nose, which broke upon impact, and the tall guy gasped in bloody coughs of agony. Tears rolled down the tall guy’s face. Blood bloomed from his nose down to his neck.

In the windows of the shuttle bus and the main lobby, there were people on their cell phones, demanding the police get there.

The tall guy lunged at Kurt. Forcing him backward. Pushing him onto the ground and strangling his neck with his right hand and then his left. Wheezing, desperate for air from a closing windpipe about to crack, Kurt saw flashing white and black stripes pulsating around him. Starry vision.

Out of instinct Kurt gripped the side of the tall guy’s face with all his strength, and ground nails into the muscles of his cheek, pulling at the elasticity of his skin. The tall guy gnashed his teeth, attempting to bite Kurt’s bloodied fingers. The tall guy screamed, feeling the flesh being pulled away from his eyeball to the cheek. Kurt made a fist and ripped back, then pulled down. He felt a small, stray muscle and blood matter warm the palm of his hand.

Sirens blared.

A high-pitched scream fed the air. The tall guy fell into a fetal position. He cradled the bloody and stretched side of his face. “My face,” he wept.

Kurt rolled onto his side, coughing, and gasping for breath.

The well-dressed black man clapped, in a congratulatory manner for the victorious Kurt he did not know. Yet.

The section above is an excerpt from “The Dollmaker’s Grin” by Dan MacRae, published in Zizobotchi Papers: volume 2, fall, 2017.

Zizobotchi Papers is a literary journal dedicated to the novella. Think double feature of long form fiction, with a paperback spine instead of a marquee. Purchase copies of volume 2 here, preview it below: 

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