An exciting scene near the end of the second book in the Belle Bannon series (title yet to be determined) takes place on Doll island. While the book locates Doll Island in the Texas Everglades, the real Doll Island can be found outside Mexico City. Here’s the story:
Julian Santana Barrera was a hermit living alone on the Xochimilico canal, 17 miles south of Mexico City. One day, sadly, he discovered the body of a young girl had washed up onto his shore. A few days later, a doll washed up on shore at the same location and Barrera was certain the doll manifested the spirit of the dead girl. He hung the doll from a tree overlooking the swampy canal as a memorial to the child.
Over the years, Barrera found broken dolls in trash piles and hung them from trees. Many he nailed to the sides of his house. In the 90s, the local council came to clean up the canal and discovered the dolls. Word spread and tourists came to visit the spooky place where lifeless, mud splattered dolls with severed limbs stared down at them through empty eyes behind the veil of gray Spanish moss, as if sentenced to an eternal purgatory. Many brought their own broken dolls. Soon the site became known as Isla de las Munecas, the Island of the Dolls.
By the time of Barrera’s death in 2001, hundreds of dolls and pieces of dolls hung from the trees along the shore.
Apart from a cool scene location for Belle’s harrowing adventures, Doll Island could make a great opening scene to a horror story. For example:
Jen and Bill paddled upstream through the dirty, fetid water through a tunnel formed by heavy oak limbs arching over the canal from each shore. Despite the late hour, Jen’s skin was slick with sweat from the tropical heat. She opened another button on her yellow blouse, then pulled a band from the pocket of her cut-offs and bound her bright red hair into a pony tail to get it off her neck.
“It’s getting dark,” she said. “Maybe we should turn back.”
“Should be close,” Bill replied. “There! Up ahead on the left.”
She’d met him at the hotel bar only three days earlier. One thing had led to another and, well, here they were, paddling a rental canoe toward the island.
She was the first to spot the dolls. “Oh my God.” She’d seen pictures, of course, on the flyer in the hotel lobby, but witnessing the sight in person was still a shock. Broken dolls, most missing limbs and eyes, hung from every limb of every tree fronting the shoreline.
Bill stopped paddling. “Wow! Must be what? 300 of them?” He focussed his cell camera and snapped picture after picture. “let’s go to shore. I want to get some close-ups.”
“Maybe we better head back. We’re gonna run out of light.”
“Just take a minute.” He guided the canoe to the muddy shore and they both jumped out. She didn’t appreciate his quick dismissal of her concern, like her opinion didn’t count for anything. Felt very familiar. She paddled hard. The sooner they got on and off the island, the better.
When they tied up the canoe, she saw a dilapidated structure behind the trees. “Look at the shack over there. The walls are covered with dolls.”
“So cool.” Bill snapped a few photos using the flash, then showed them to Jen. The flash illumination gave the dolls and even more sinister appearance.
“We gotta go. Now.”
He slipped his arm around her shoulders and kissed her. She stiffened. No time for this. “Not now.” He ignored her and his hands wandered to familiar places. For the first time in the last three days she felt guilty. And homesick. What the hell was she doing?
“Bet no one has ever done it here. C’mon.”
“Bill, I need to get back.”
He jerked her to a mossy spot, then tugged at her Jeans. She tried to pull away, but he was very strong. Through the trees she could make out a thin ribbon of gray on the horizon, the last wisp of daylight. They had to move. Okay, okay, she told herself. Give him what he wants, get it over with.
Fortunately, he was quick. The moment he rolled over onto his back, she saw it and froze.
“That doll, the one right above us with the torn blue dress. It just smiled at me.”
“Just the breeze playing tricks. Come on, lets get back to the canoe. Once we get about a half mile downstream, we should see lights from—”
“Oh, my God …”
All of the dolls were smiling at them.
She screamed, grabbed up her shorts and underwear and ran toward the canoe with Bill close behind.
She turned to see Bill had slipped in he mud. Above him the dolls swayed back and forth. The breeze picked up, and as it rustled through the hanging moss she was certain she heard:
She dropped her clothes, helped Bill to his feet. Looked like he’d sprained his ankle. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and they struggled to the shore.
The canoe was gone. Bill stopped, then stepped away. What was he doing? They had to find—
Bill was standing straight. And smiling at her. His hair fell away, his skin hardened to a dirty pink plastic. His eyes disappeared.
Welcome, Jen …
Her shriek was interrupted by a creaking sound. The Bill thing gestured toward the shack with his arm, only it wasn’t an arm, more like a plastic stub.
She turned to see the door of the shack slowly open. At first the structure appeared empty inside. Then she looked down.
Hundreds of dolls, all missing eyes and limbs, floated out the door, riding the mist carpeting the ground.
Her raw scream pierced, then reverberated the warm night air. But no one heard.
The sun shone down on the tourists paddling by the island in a canoe flotilla. Excited by the sight, all snapped photos of the hanging dolls. One took a close-up of a doll with no eyes, missing an arm.
The doll had red hair and wore a dirty yellow blouse.
Twenty-five hundred miles away, Jack Masters was worried about his wife. Jen had gone off the Mexico City with her best friend for a long girls weekend. She’d called every night. Sounded like they were having a great time. But two nights ago she hadn’t call. He wasn’t overly concerned. Probably a little too much wine at dinner. When he hadn’t heard from her last night, he began to worry. A call to Cindy wasn’t helpful. Seemed like she was hiding something. If he didn’t hear from her by noon, he was going to catch a plane and …