Story A Day: “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis” by Karen Russell

shortstorymonth320x320In her Washington Post review of Karen Russell’s story collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove, novelist and critic Elizabeth Hand noted that the book’s final entry, “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis” was “among the best and most chilling” tales she’d read in years. Having read it myself now, I can see why Hand was so moved; the story is indeed powerful—progressing “with the logic of a frightening nursery rhyme” (to borrow a phrase from the story itself). A quartet of 14-year-old boys in a bleakly urban New Jersey landscape discover a scarecrow pinned to an oak tree—and the narrator, Larry Rubio, quickly recognizes how the doll bears an eerie resemblance to another young boy, the story’s title character, who’d arrived at their school the previous year and whom they’d taunted and abused with ferocious precision. The four boys call themselves Camp Dark—”a dorky name,” as the narrator admits—but their encounter with the scarecrow leads Rubio to truly dark places and into personal memories that he’d hoped to erase. Chilling indeed, and likely unforgettable in its own right. — Art Taylor