Doris Acerbi peered out the tinted window of her black convertible, able to barely make out the silhouette of Maudelyn Estate against the stormy sky. Rain beat down in torrents upon the Earth, as if heaven was releasing its almighty fury on humanity. Mrs. Acerbi herself was a bony middle-aged woman, although cosmetic surgery and expensive beauty products masked her age masterfully. Everything about her seemed to be sufficiently 'dark,' from her straight jet-black hair down to her dark coat and skirt. Her pale face was eerily reminiscent of a skull, with high cheekbones and two sunken-in lumps of coal for eyes.
"It looks haunted," the woman said to herself, silently wishing she was back in Malibu. "I hope I'm not at the wrong place," she mumbled, digging a gloved hand through her purse and retrieving a crisp, white envelope. Silently opening it, Doris pulled out the mysterious letter and key that had arrived at her own mansion merely two days earlier.
"My dearest Doris, if you have received this letter, then you will now that I have passed on from this world. As you know, I always was sickly, and I believe my disease has finally caught up with me. My will reading is being held at Maudelyn Estate on the 15th of April. You may use the key attached to gain access to my home, should you arrive first. Sincerely, Monty Maudelyn." The address then followed.
The letter itself hadn't struck her as odd, despite its cryptic aura. Monty had always been the odd one, and Doris, being the gold-digger she was, was not going to pass up the chance to gain something out of his death. It was already 7:15, but Mrs. Acerbi made a point of always being 'fashionably late.'
"Well, I suppose this is the place, then. Monty's done well for himself, hasn't he?" Doris looked up at the mansion, which was enviously larger than her own. Shoving the letter back into her purse and the key into her coat pocket, she scooped an old black umbrella from the back seat and hurried out into the storm. Her heels clacked wildly against the pavement as she ran for the front door, splashing through the soaked drive and soaking her bare legs.
"Lousy weather," she mumbled, closing her umbrella as she reached the building's covered porch. She silently brought up her hand and rapped on the old wooden door. Her ears caught the quiet sound of somebody moving within, and the door was pulled open by a tall, bearded man of about fifty. The hair missing from his head seemed to have decided to grow out of his chin. However, he looked utterly sinister, with tiny, bird-like eyes and a long, protruding nose. Doris was taken aback by how much he resembled a bald eagle.
"Can I help you, miss?" the man asked, looking at the woman intently.
"I'm here for the will reading. My name is Doris Acerbi."
"Yes, come this way," the man nodded, beckoning her into the home. Doris stepped inside, peering around the expansive main hall. Several candles had been lit throughout the room, casting horrible shifting shadows over the marble floor and elegantly papered walls.
"And you are, sir?" Doris asked, turning around as the mysterious gentleman gingerly closed the front door.
"Dennis Maudelyn. I was Monty's older brother."
"Oh…I didn't know Monty had any siblings," Doris blinked.
"I moved out of our aunt's home when I was seventeen. I imagine I was gone by the time you showed up," Dennis looked at her.
"By the time I showed up? Doris asked, her voice ringing off the rafters.
"Oh, yes, Monty used to write to me. I believe he mentioned his high school sweetheart, a Doris Bailey."
"Bailey's my maiden name…"
"I figured as much," Dennis nodded. "Now, if you could come this way. Everyone's waiting for you in the sitting room."
"Yes, of course," Doris nodded, following the man wherever he led. She removed her gloves and placed them carefully into her coat pockets.
"I apologize for the lights. The storm seems to have knocked the power out," Dennis called, leading the woman through twisting corridors and candlelit rooms. "Here we are."
Doris and Dennis walked into the dark, carpeted sitting room of the home. The place was utterly cluttered with old books and oversized furniture, all of which looked to not have been dusted in ages. Four other people fidgeted nervously around the fireplace, which illuminated the room enough to allow them to see each other's twisted, anxious faces.
"I suppose we can begin now, at last," said a spidery, redheaded woman as Doris and Dennis walked in. "Where's the will?"
"In my pocket, Miss O'Brien," Dennis said firmly as Doris sunk onto one of the hard, antique sofas.
"Have you looked at it yet?" Miss O'Brien asked, looking at him intently. Her voice was raspy and irritating.
"No. This will be the first time I've seen it. I was only given a list of names to begin with."
"Didn't your brother have a real lawyer?" Miss O'Brien asked, fiddling with her glasses.
"I suppose he did, but I was instructed to lead the reading. I am a lawyer, after all. Now, would everyone please sit down? hem…if you are all ready," Dennis cleared his throat as he began to read. "My beloved friends and relatives, Doris Acerbi, Dennis Maudelyn, Mable O'Brien, Gwen Hampshire, Maximilian Macmillan, and Harold Caruthers…"
Doris shifted nervously at the mention of Harold Caruthers and Gwen Hampshire. She hadn't even noticed them when she first walked into the room, but now she could clearly see the dapper blond man and craggily old woman sitting across from her. However, Mrs. Acerbi realized she was dazing off and hurriedly focused her attention back on Mr. Maudelyn.
"…I've devised a game for you all. You all remember how fond I was of puzzles and toys, and if any of you want to inherit anything, you'll have to win it," Dennis continued, sounding quite dumbfounded
"What is this? I didn't come to play some children's game," a distinguished older gentleman jumped to his feet. Doris assumed he was Maximilian Macmillan.
"I'm just reading what it says, sir," Dennis cleared his throat. "Now, if I could finish…'the answers and treasures all lie in my dollhouse in my bedroom. Good luck to you all. Your beloved, Monty Maudelyn."
The elderly Gwen Hampshire, Monty's dear old aunt, croaked, "That boy is just as crazy as he always was! Crazy!"
Mable O'Brien laughed to herself, only to ease the tension. "Well, maybe we should find that dollhouse. Maybe he hid the real will in there."
The guests all looked at each other, gears turning in their brains. Almost in unison, they all jumped up and shoved their way out the door. Each was determined to get to that dollhouse first, and reap whatever treasures they thought might be inside.
Dennis reached the hall first, "Please…we can all go up there in an orderly…" However, he was caught off as the others stampeded past him and up the main staircase, tripping over each other in the darkness. Muttering to himself, he hurried after them all.
"Which room is it?" Doris asked, moving down the dark corridor and pulling open every door she came across. Nothing but closets, bathrooms, and guestrooms.
By now, Mable O'Brien was in the lead, her long red dress trailing behind her as she rounded a corner of the corridor. She pulled open the last, unexamined door and triumphantly yelled that she had found it.
"Well, where's the dollhouse?" Harold came up behind her. However, everyone was shoving their way inside before she could answer him.
"Here," Doris pushed through the crowd to the large, ornate dollhouse in the corner of the room. "Why…it looks just like this place!" The large, model building seemed to have been designed to be a miniature replica of the very mansion in which they were all standing. Five tiny dolls were lined around the sitting room sofa.
"Well, where's the treasure?" Aunt Gwen demanded. However, she was generally ignored.
"Funny…these dolls could almost pass for us…" Doris seemed to be in a trance, as she lifted up a thin, dark haired woman. "Why…it looks just like me."
"So? We came up here for treasure, Doris," Harold said, ", not to play dolls."
"But look…here's Miss O'Brien," Doris said, lifting up a redheaded doll with tiny silver glasses. "And Mrs. Hampshire, and you, Harold. And here's you, Mr. Maudelyn."
"It doesn't look like me," Harold decided, staring at the porcelain blond man in his hands. However, the toy eerily possessed Harold's undeniable wolfish smile and large blue eyes.
"What kind of stupid game is this?" Maximilian demanded. "Where's my doll, then?"
"Why…Mr. Macmillan…it's in the kitchen," Doris looked up. "…And there's a tiny silver knife in its back."