Episode 32: "Ashes, Ashes" – The Sheridan Tapes
CONTENT WARNING: Depictions of childhood conflict, dread, terror, automatonophobia, some strong language and loud noises (including screams)
10225019b: Driving down the long, empty highways of western Nevada, Kate Sheridan stops off at a strange roadside attraction run by one enthusiastic collector… and her hundreds upon hundreds of dolls.
Starring Airen Neeley Chaconas as Anna Sheridan, Virginia Spotts as Kate Sheridan, and Becca Scott as Dolores and Eunice, with original music by Jesse Haugen and additional voices from our Patreon supporters. Written by Virginia Spotts and produced by Trevor Van Winkle and Virginia Spotts, and made possible by our supporters at Patreon.com/homesteadcorner and ko-fi.com/homesteadcorner
For more information, additional content, and episode transcript, visit thesheridantapes.com
CONTENT WARNING: Depictions of childhood conflict, dread, terror, automatonophobia, some strong language and loud noises (including screams)
[Someone clicks an old camcorder shut]
[Static of playback]
Happy Birthday dear Anna, Happy Birthday–
[The voices are cut off with the whine of the tape]
…your mother wanted to…
[Whine & static of camcorder tape]
[Tape playback–the general hum of an indoor space]
[Anna, in her early teens, is heard quietly giggling]
[A knock on a door]
What do you want, weirdo?
Oh, nothing, just… Notice anything missing lately, Kate?
[Footsteps, then the door opening]
What did you do – why are you taping this?
[Kate tries to grab the camcorder]
[Anna laughs at her]
What is your damage, Anna?
I just thought you might wanna go check the fireplace…
Oh my god… What did you DO?!
[Kate retreats down the hall]
[Kate screams from the other room]
[Anna laughs mischievously & catches up to her]
FELICITYY!! No, no, no!!
Chill out, Kate, she’s fine. She’s also a doll, remember?
You hung her up by her neck in front of the fire! She could have melted!
Kate, you are way, way too old for this. It would be a shame if… Brad found out.
[The sound of a cassette tape winding back]
Don’t you dare –!
[Scuffling, sisterly fighting]
Ow! Let go of my –!
[The tape cuts out]
[The cassette noises stop]
[Static fades away]
[The sound of an interior fan, a quiet hotel room]
I’m in a Dollhouse. Of all the places I could have ended up…
[Kate sits up in her bed]
Let’s try that again. I’m in a place called the Dollhouse… The Dollhouse Hotel, technically, but Dolores just kept calling it the Dollhouse. I’ve never heard of it, and by the looks of things, no one else has in a long time. It didn’t show up on my phone when I looked it up, and it wasn’t even on the old print maps I had. I didn’t plan to end up here, but I was tired and I saw the sign and… Yeah, I turned off. That might have been a mistake, but… God, I needed some sleep.
[Tired laugh, she shifts]
Ugh, I’m not starting this off well, am I Anna? Must be even more tired than I thought. Last week, I was at your house in Lake Isabella, and… Well, I recorded all that, so I don’t think I need to recap it. Then I called that Lieutenant Tyler Maria told me about, but he was just as cagey as she was about this “Bailey” person. I doubt I’ll be able to get anything else out of him. But, I do know he works in Oslow County, Nevada – the same place you disappeared. So that’s where I’m headed now.
God, that feels really weird to say. You remember how dad always used to talk about Nevada, right? That it was a… A “dark place,” and that we should just avoid the whole state? I remember we used to spend whole days driving around it whenever we went on vacation. I guess it’s one of those things you grow up just… accepting as normal.
I think I’m pretty close now. I’m not sure… I was never very good with maps, and the service on my GPS and phone kept failing, so I can’t check. The highways out here are a lot longer and more desolate than I expected. A little desperate, too. No real cities, just… Strange roadside attractions, groups of trailers that look so run down you almost hope no one lives there, and painted signs for what are clearly low-rent brothels… Not anywhere I would want to stop for the night, that’s for sure. There was this one town that used to be a silver mine and hasn’t been doing well since then, and another place that had a billboard advertising “The Biggest Artillery Depot in the World.” I know I didn’t have any rational reason to drive faster on my way out of that place, but let’s just say the feeling hanging over it was… dark. Oppressive. So I kept driving.
By that point it was getting dark, and I haven’t been sleeping very well since what happened in your house, so I was fading fast. That’s when I saw the sign. “Come rest your bones at the Dollhouse.” It was on the side of the highway, just a few feet before a little two-lane road. I couldn’t really see anything beyond it, but my vision was starting to get blurry and I knew my only other option was sleeping in my car on the side of the highway. So I turned off. Sleeping in a car was always your thing, not mine.
I pulled around some kind of rock formation that was big enough to hide the highway from view, and then I saw it: The Dollhouse. I couldn’t get a good look at the outside in the dark, but I could tell that it was a big, old, Victorian-looking bed and breakfast, just sitting in the middle of the Nevadan desert. Wraparound porch, two stories, and pretty well-maintained except for a bit of chipped paint. Even so, there were no other cars in the parking lot when I arrived.
I pulled up and was just getting out of my car when I heard someone say “Aren’t you a lucky one?”
[Another woman’s voice echoes over Kate’s]
I looked up to see a woman standing right in front of my headlights, just down off the porch. I don’t know how she got there without me noticing, but… it’s probably just how tired I was. She introduced herself as Dolores, the hotel manager. I’m guessing the lack of cars in the parking lot wasn’t a new thing, since she kept talking about how excited she was as she brought me in through the front door.
I guess it’s only fair to assume that when you see a sign for “The Dollhouse Hotel,” there will be dolls involved at some point. I mean, I had dolls when I was a kid, but this was… Well, let’s just say you would have loved this place, Anna. Or hated it. Or both. On every wall, there’s at least one shelf with a dozen dolls. All different kinds, too – your stereotypical frilly-dressed dolls, sure, but also rag dolls, puppets, wooden dolls, even some antique ones with pointed, glamorous faces. I think I even saw one or two cabbage patch kids in the corner of the lobby. But mostly, they’re the frilly kind. This place definitely has a theme.
The receptionist’s desk was right inside the front door, off to the left and fairly small for the size of the room. The place smelled old, like they’d cooked the same meals over and over again for years and the smell has seeped into the walls. It’s not so bad up here in my room, but… it’s there. And as Dolores rattled off tidbit after tidbit about the history of the hotel, I looked around the room and… I saw Eunice.
Eunice is a doll. Unsurprisingly. The one sitting on the receptionist’s desk down in the lobby. She has a white laced silk dress, a neat head of curls, and a little parasol over one shoulder. Dolores caught me looking at her and said, [the same woman’s voice echoes in the background] “Oh, this is Eunice. She’s the lady of the house. It’s her hotel.” Which was… Okay, I get it, people come here for the weirdness, I guess. But then Dolores looked at me and said something like, [woman’s voice echoing] “Oh my, you have beautiful eyes! Eunice, don’t you think she has beautiful eyes?” Then she put her hand up behind Eunice and… Well, pretended to make her say,
[woman’s voice echoing]
“Oh my, yes she does!” And no, I’m not kidding.
I was just about ready to go up to my room and never come out again, but Dolores insisted on giving me a full tour of the place. Being her only customer in God knows how long, I didn’t really feel like I had a choice.
The staircase to the second floor – which is where my room is – was right there in the lobby, next to the entryway. The next room we entered was off to the right, the lounge. The lights were all dimmed for the evening, but it was still pretty easy to see. There were dolls set up in little scenes all around the room, taking up a corner of a bench beneath the window, climbing on the curtains, and sitting around a tall, spindly table on tall, spindly chairs. There was an identical, human-sized version of that table and chair set sitting next to it. The wallpaper was floral – excessively so – and the rugs in the room were soft and spongy with age.
It took me a while to take it all in, tired as I was… but then I saw a familiar face in one of the tableaus. It was a Felicity doll! I couldn’t help myself and I blurted out her name, and Dolores got… Well, more excited than I would have expected. Then I saw a Telephone Tammy and blurted out again, and Dolores exclaimed that she simply had to give me the real tour now, since I was a fellow collector. I tried to insist that I just recognized a few from when I was a kid, but she ignored that and asked me to take a closer look [woman’s voice echoing]– “really take the details in,” as she said. I went over to one of the dolls climbing the curtains just to be polite, and examined it as well as I could. I tried to focus on it, but I kept catching Dolores staring at me out of the corner of my eye. She looked so expectant, like I was about to discover some great secret. But after a while I gave up the pretense and just said that they were lovely, then walked back over to her. She looked slightly disappointed, but it passed in a moment before she led me into the next room, blurting out doll facts at a speed that would give an auctioneer whiplash. Dolores kept saying that this was
[woman’s voice echoing]
“the best day ever,” and I… Well, I guess I went along with it because I felt bad for her.
The next room was further towards the back of the house, with a long dining table and those dollhouse-like Victorian chairs around it. I could see the kitchen behind a set of swinging doors on the far side of it. Dolores said that the kitchen was only for staff, but if I needed anything day or night, I just had to go into that room and ring the bells on this… weird kind-of-chandelier thing with ropes and pulleys running down from it to different sections of the dining room. I’d never seen anything like it, but… well, it definitely wasn’t the weirdest thing I’d seen in the hotel, so I didn’t question it.
The rooms on the ground floor were connected to the dining room by a dark hallway, running along the back of the house. Dolores said she couldn’t take me in there because it was past quiet hours, but… huh… now that I think about it, that doesn’t quite make sense. Not if I’m the only one here.
In any case, I’m glad she didn’t take me back there – from what I could see, the walls were packed with so many dolls it was impossible to see anything except for the empty spaces where the doors must have been.
So instead, she took me back through the lounge to the lobby, told me when breakfast was served, when their social hour was… she said something about always having to keep the dolls occupied so they don’t cause trouble, so… yikes. No thank you. Then she pointed out the spa room. Yes, somehow this place has a spa. It’s a small room that goes all the way up through the second story, with a massive skylight instead of a roof. There’s just enough room for a small hot tub, and the humidity in there was… ugh, honestly, kind of suffocating. I think the walls were glass too, but they all had heavy curtains over them… for privacy, I guess, though I can only imagine the mildew they must get in there. As soon as we were done, Dolores turned and said, a little more sternly than she should have, that should I choose to use the spa, I needed to leave the curtains exactly where they were. I nodded politely but… I don’t think it will come as any surprise that I don’t plan on taking advantage of the spa.
Then we went back to the front desk, I paid in cash to avoid any difficulties with what looked like a twenty year old card reader, and she handed me an antique-looking bronze key bigger than my phone. She told me that I’d be staying in room 18, which was at the end of the second story hallway, just past the bathroom.
I was about to head up and go to bed when I realized there was a whole section of the house she’d left out of our tour. I don’t know how I didn’t notice it earlier, but the area behind the desk… she hadn’t even mentioned it. There was a large door made out of some kind of rough, dark wood behind her that looked out of place compared to the Victorian stylings of the rest of the hotel. I asked about it, and Dolores said, completely straight- faced, that it led to
[woman’s voice echoing]
“Eunice’s private quarters.” I didn’t know how to reply to that, but then Dolores laughed awkwardly and said that it was
[woman’s voice echoing]
“Just our little joke.”
She explained that it’s all back-of- house stuff… Boilers and laundry and cleaning supplies, that sort of thing.
I didn’t quite believe her, but I really wanted to get to my room and call it a night. I climbed up the stairs to the second floor, passing some kind of stained glass window near the top. I couldn’t tell what it was supposed to be in the dark. At the top of the stairs, I noticed that the wall on the right looked much newer than the walls in the rest of the house, as if it had only been built recently. It must have been right above the door that led to “Eunice’s quarters,” or whatever’s really back there.
Of course, the dolls continued to line the hall, which kind of snake around the building above the lounge, dining room, and kitchen, but thankfully they weren’t as choked with them as the hall on the first floor was. I realized that my room must be on the far end of the hallway, so I’d have to walk past all of those dolls on the way there. At first it wasn’t too bad, but as I went, the dolls seemed to get more lifelike – like those hyper-realistic newborn ones that some people have for… Some reason. It was still pretty dark, and the end of the hall just past my room was completely black. But I could still see the vague shadows of dolls several feet away, mounted at the end of the hall. They were bigger than any of the rest, at least a couple of feet tall, if not completely human sized. I rushed into my room pretty quickly after I saw those. I made sure to lock the door, too.
And after that – well, I’ve been here. In my room, trying to sleep. It’s been a few hours, but I’ve only had little moments of rest, nothing solid. It’s the middle of the freaking night again, and I still can’t sleep. I thought I’d just drift right off to sleep with how tired I am, but… [she sighs] there’s just something off about my room.
You know what… I think I just figured it out. All of the furniture in here… it’s… it’s like the dining table downstairs. It’s all scaled up dollhouse furniture. All of the table and chair legs are stockier and more rounded than normal, and the ruffles on the comforter and the pillows are way too excessive… Not to mention the canopy over the bed. God, it feels like someone’s shrunk me down and put me in a… an actual dollhouse. It’s… it’s almost claustrophobic, to be honest.
[Kate’s stomach rumbles loudly]
Ughh, come on. I’m starving too. There was nowhere to stop for dinner out there, and I really wasn’t thinking about eating at that point.
Maybe I should take Dolores’s advice. She did say the kitchen was available anytime day or night. Couldn’t hurt to check, anyway.
[Kate swings her legs off the bed as she gets up]
[The bed creaks]
[She picks up her purse, keys jangling]
Okay… Got everything. Let’s… Oh. I can probably turn you–
[The recorder clicks off]
[The recorder clicks back on]
[A clock ticks faintly in the background]
Ugh, just need to ignore that hallway…
[Her chair scrapes as she sits]
…okay. Let’s see what these bells actually sound like.
[Her chair groans as she leans forward]
[She pulls on the rope in front of her]
[The bells tinkle all around her]
[The kitchen doors immediately swing open]
Well hello, Miss Sheridan. I’m so glad you’ve decided to take advantage of our kitchen tonight. What can I get you?
Uh… Hi, Dolores. Uh, well, um… Do you have… Grilled cheese and tomato soup? I don’t see a menu, but, uh…
It would be my pleasure. Don’t move a muscle!
[Dolores retreats, doors swinging shut behind her again]
[Rustling, liquid noises, and other kitchen sounds heard continuous]
What the hell… Uh, Dolores just came out of the kitchen in… Well, a full maid outfit. Curled hair, perfect makeup, not a stitch out of place, like it wasn’t the middle of the night. Doesn’t anyone else work here? Doesn’t she sleep?
[She yawns widely]
You know, I was thinking… Anna never told me much about the times she came to Nevada. She always said she was drawn here, but I kind of just assumed that was some rebellious carryover from our childhood. I mean, she was closer to dad than any of the rest of us, but… Well, she was still Anna. But I don’t think it was just that. She told me that there are way more disappearances in the state than there ought to be, especially along I-80. Huh. That’s… Not too far from here, actually.
It was hard for me to imagine what kind of death wish Anna had, seeking out places where people vanished, but… well, I guess I understand her better than I used to now.
Hopefully this isn’t where you ended up, Anna. I’d hate to think of your illustrious career ending in a place like… The Dollhouse Hotel. Though I suspect this is where all of the missing people in Nevada end up, eventually. Like… Right in front of me, the dolls all look just a little too specific. There’s a…
Wait… Is that a smartphone in that one’s hands? And, uh… Oh God. I didn’t notice earlier, but… they all look like they’ve been crying.
[The doors to the kitchen creak open]
Dinner is served!
[Bowl and plate clatter down in front of Kate]
Do you need anything else?
This… This will be fine. Thank you.
[Dolores turns to walk away]
[Kate pokes at her food, strange plastic noises coming from it]
What, is this… Is this plastic?
I’m so silly.
[she turns around]
Oh, I really shouldn’t have done that! I’ll have your real food out in a minute.
Look, I’m awfully sorry. They always tell me I pull too many jokes on the guests, but it’s really so nice to have someone here who sees the fun in this place like we do.
You know what, why don’t you go relax in the spa room? Normally we don’t let people eat in there, but I think we can make an exception just this once.
Oh… Sure, sure, that sounds… Wonderful. I’ll… I just need to go get my swimsuit.
Oh, fantastic! I hope you’re okay with the heat, it can get pretty steamy in there. Eunice’s orders!
[Kate awkwardly laughs along]
[The kitchen doors swing shut again as Dolores disappears]
[Kate’s chair scrapes backwards, she retreats]
God, I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into, but I need to get the hell out of here. Now.
[Kate begins to climb the stairs]
[A small noise makes her stop]
Oh my, you have beautiful eyes!
Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me…
Oh my, yes you do!
[Kate steps off the stairs]
Is that you, Eunice?
[Kate walks to the front desk, faint static rising on the tape]
You picked a really bad night to try my patience, I’ll tell you that for free. I really… really don’t think you can manage to scare me. Maybe a few weeks ago, but now…
[A plastic creak as Eunice moves]
I want… your eyes.
My tricks didn’t work on you.
I cannot tell, I will not tell…
[Muffled, from the next room]
Ms. Sheridan? Is that you?
You should have run.
Is that so? …What’s behind that door then, huh?
[Kate sprints around the desk and pushes the heavy door open]
[Kate slams the door shut]
[The despairing/angry voices of Dolores and Eunice are heard beyond the door]
That won’t hold them for long… I need to… Ah! There!
[Kate grabs a nearby cart, and pushes it in front of the door]
[Dolores bangs on the door, her pleas muffled]
Good. That should keep her…
That cart… I didn’t see it before, but… It’s full of doll’s heads. Where am…
[She turns around]
Oh my God. What… Oh my God. It’s… God, this must take up half the hotel, and it’s full of factory equipment – Shelves, a loom, and a… a… Ohhh shit.
I… I need to get out of here, now–!
[The recorder is handled, then shut off]
[A hotel room, with just the faint sound of a refrigerator in the background]
[Kate sits up in bed]
Well… It turns out, I should have just kept driving in the first place. I mean, I should have done that anyways, but… I was only about ten miles from Oslow when I pulled off. I saw the lights come over the horizon almost as soon as I drove off.
Okay. So obviously, I got out of there. But I need to… talk about what I saw in that room. Why I had to leave so quickly.
The cart I pushed in front of the door to keep Dolores and Eunice out was full of doll heads, all staring up at me… But they were all blank. Unpainted, with empty eye sockets and blank features. But even so, some of them looked… frightened. I don’t know how. Honestly, I didn’t look at them for too long. When I turned around to look at the rest of the room – well, there was a lot to take in. It was two stories, like the first and second stories had been torn out of half the hotel to make room for this… factory. That’s really the only word for it.
There was an elaborate loom, like something out of the industrial revolution, and rows and rows of shelves overflowing with bins of doll parts. Legs, arms, bodies, hair, and… eyes of every shape and size. There was a massive, tiered closet full of doll clothes cut into one wall, and dozens of half-finished dolls hung up on overhead cables. But… the worst part…
The worst part was this thick, dripping steel pipe, coming through the wall.
Right where the spa room was supposed to be. It was rusty and oozing some kind of black sludge through the cracks, and… It drained right into a set of doll molds. There were a dozen of them, all fed from the same pipe, and it looked like some of them already had… [she breathes] material solidifying in them. That was when I realized where that old food smell was coming from – like some kind of boiled, not-quite-rotten meat. I almost threw up.
And there was one mold… One that looked like it was supposed to be feminine… that was empty. Directly under the pipe, just waiting. I almost felt like throwing up again when I remembered Dolores offering to let me eat in the spa room, but then I heard Eunice start wailing behind the door.
Thankfully I spotted an old fire exit out the back. Apparently they never planned to trap their victims in the factory itself, and didn’t bother removing the door. I got out, ran around the hotel to my car, and got the hell out of there before Dolores knew what was happening. Or… maybe Eunice, I guess. Hard to say who was pulling whose strings there. I was just glad I actually had my purse with me this time, though the rest of my luggage is… Well, acceptable losses, I suppose.
Is this the kind of stuff Anna dealt with all the time? No wonder she turned out the way she did. Can’t exactly talk about this stuff at the dinner table, can you? Nope… Better to go off in your van and stargaze with your own thoughts. Huh. That actually… That actually sounds kind of nice right now.
I did see something else right before I left, though. It was the oddest thing, but… Someone stacked a bunch of old doll clothes into this dirty looking fireplace, right next to the pipe. Very irresponsible. If they’re not careful, that kind of thing could burn the whole place down.
[A series of firetruck and police sirens start up, receding into the distance]
Oh. That was faster than I thought. I hope Dolores got out of there in time.
God, I really need to go to bed. I did manage to grab some food from the grocery store on the way here, but… I already inhaled it. I probably won’t be up for a while, but…
I need to talk to Peter and Andrew tomorrow. I missed them again when I was driving. And I need to find some new clothes. And a toothbrush. I’m just thankful that I still had Dad’s sweater on when I left, and that most of the important stuff was already in the car.
And then, maybe… Maybe I can get in touch with Lieutenant Tyler. See if he’ll change his tune now that I’m actually here. Or at the very least, see what else I can find out about Oslow while I’m here. Hmm. I’ve got my work cut out for me.
[Cassette tape spits out]