I found the doll at a tag sale, buried under ragged stuffed animals and Barbie dolls with bad haircuts. She was tall—about 18 inches—and had curly black hair that turned blueish in the sun. Her eyes were green and had lids that opened and closed when you tilted her. She reminded me of the dolls my grandma used to collect. When I was a kid, I’d spend my weekends at her house. I’d always beg her to let me play with those dolls, but she’d tell me they were just for show. Now here I was, twenty-five years old and buying a porcelain doll at a yard sale so I could finally play with it. Odd, I know, but I felt like the doll was meant for me. Hell, she even looked like me, if you took away the Victorian-style dress she was wearing and replaced it with blue jeans and an old T-shirt.
I took her home and cleaned up the dirt marks on her face and arms. I stared at her for a long time, unsure of what to do. I can play with her, I thought. No one’s here to tell me I can’t, but what the heck do I do? I wasn’t eight any more. Playing with dolls no longer came easy to me. Why didn’t I just stick her on a shelf and call it a day? Damned if I know. I wish I had, though. I really wish I had.
Instead, I began to tilt her side to side, the way children do when they’re pretending to make a toy walk. I moved her over to a figurine of an elephant I had on my side table. I stopped her in front of it, and without even thinking, I made her kick the elephant over. Luckily, my living room is carpeted, so the elephant only chipped an ear. Stunned, I set her on the couch. I held the elephant in my hands, cradling it, as if to apologize. I had no idea why I’d done that. I set the elephant back on the table and carried the doll to my room. I set her on the rocking chair next to my bed, then left to make dinner, pushing thoughts of her out of my mind.
When I returned to my room that night for bed, I only gave her a quick glance before crawling under the covers. There she sat, peacefully on the chair, her eyes closed. I sat back up. Eyes closed? I tried to remember if they’d been closed when I set her down. The lids could have easily shut as I carried her, I reasoned. Chances are I just hadn’t noticed. I settled back down into bed and shut off my bedside lamp. It was late, I was tired, and worrying about a doll was not going to help me tackle work in the morning. I dozed off without a problem—I’ve always been one of those people blessed with the ability to fall asleep the second my head hits a pillow. I woke suddenly, hours later, and groggily looked at the clock. It was 2 a.m. Four more hours and my alarm would go off. Just as I rolled over onto my side to fall back asleep, I realized I had to pee. Bad. I turned on the light, stood up, and groaned as my eyes tried to adjust. When they did, I found myself staring into the green eyes of the doll I’d bought earlier.
No, I thought, squeezing my eyes shut and opening them once more, only to meet those glassy green eyes again. Her eyes were closed. I know that.
I walked over to the chair and picked the doll up. I tilted her forward, and her eyelids closed. I tilted her back, and they opened. I repeated my steps, trying to think of how her eyes could have opened without me tilting her. The windows in my bedroom were closed, so no breeze could have come in and rocked the chair. There was no explanation for how her eyes opened. I set her down on the chair and tilted her so her eyes closed once more. I didn’t want to look at them. I wrapped my arms tight around my chest and walked to the bathroom.
When I returned, I couldn’t help but look at her. Her eyes were closed, just as I’d left them. I smiled. Maybe I’d opened them before bed and was too tired to remember. I assured myself that was probably what had happened. I climbed back into bed and reached over to turn off the light. Once more, my eyes found their way to her face. I watched in horror as one eye winked open, then shut again. I shook my head. I was seeing things. I had to be seeing things. I shut off the light and huddled under the covers. I closed my eyes, but couldn’t fall asleep. I kept feeling like someone was watching me. I tried to ignore the feeling. I was an adult, for God’s sake. I wasn’t going to let some doll creep me out. I curled up into a ball and wrapped the covers tight around my chin. After a few minutes, my body and mind began to relax. I could feel sleep finally coming on.
And then, I heard the noise.
It was a soft creaking noise—the sound of my rocking chair rocking back and forth, back and forth. I slowly rolled over to face the chair, afraid to turn on the light. The moonlight shining through my window gave me enough light to see by. The doll was still seated, staring right at me as the chair rocked. At first, I thought the chair was rocking by itself, but as my eyes adjusted, I saw a pale figure crouched next to it, pushing on its back.
I held my breath, as if that would stop the thing from noticing me. The thing stood, and I saw it was a little girl of about six or seven. She was wearing an old-fashioned white nightgown, and her black hair was tied in pigtails. Her skin was pale white and under her big eyes were dark circles. I could just barely see through her. It was enough to tell me she was not a living girl.
The girl stared at me and tilted her head, like she was asking me to play with her. I pushed myself as far down into the mattress as I could. I tried to look away from her, but I couldn’t. I watched as she picked up the doll and held it to her chest. How can she pick it up? I thought. She shouldn’t be able to do that. But she could. Did that mean she could touch me, also? I shuddered at the thought. She was a little girl, yes, but she was also dead. Something about her felt wrong. Something felt bad.
She took two steps toward me, thrusting the doll forward. I watched as the doll’s eyes began blinking madly and its mouth cracked open. Shrieks of laughter came from its broken mouth. I screamed.
The little girl opened her mouth wide in a smile, baring teeth that were pointed and bloody. She threw the doll at me and laughed. It was the same laugh that had come from the doll.
As I watched the doll fly toward me, my mind scrambled to come up with a plan. The girl had come into my house with the doll—that much was clear. Maybe if I destroyed the doll, she’d leave me alone. I caught the doll, which now had the same sharp teeth as the girl, and held it as far away from my body as I could. I heard her laugh as the doll began to snap at my arm.
I knew I had to get to the living room and start a fire in the fireplace. Though I knew very little about getting rid of evil spirits, I seemed to remember fire being the best way. Wishing I hadn’t stopped going to church years ago, I began to recite what I remembered of “Our Father” under my breath as I carefully shifted the doll to my left hand. I slowly opened my nightstand’s drawer and pulled out the Bible I kept there, but admittedly never read. Before she could tell what I was planning, I chucked the book at her and leapt from the bed.
She made a terrible noise—a cross between a growl and a scream—but I forced myself not to look behind me. I yanked the door open and slammed it shut behind me. I knew the door wouldn’t stop her, but it made me feel a bit safer to have it closed. I sprinted down the hall and into the living room. The doll was twisting violently in my hands, as if it knew what I was planning. Maybe it did. I shuddered at the thought and kneeled before the fireplace. I pinned the doll under my left knee, with her biting mouth pressed into the carpet. Luckily, I’d left plenty of newspapers by the fireplace. I threw them in along with the logs and lit everything. I could hear shrill laughter in the hallway just outside my bedroom door. If the Bible had done anything to the girl, she was clearly over it by now. I had to work fast.
The fire wasn’t as strong as I wanted it to be, but I could hear the girl’s laughter getting louder and the doll was pushing my knee up with a force it shouldn’t have possessed. I sucked in a deep breath and pulled my knee backward off the doll. As my knee lifted, I shot my hands forward and pressed her to the floor so she wouldn’t move. I lifted her and flung her against the back of the fireplace. Her face, arms, and legs shattered and her cloth body fell into the fire. As she hit the flames an awful cry filled the house. I crouched in a ball and covered my ears as best I could, but the screams filled my head. They were coming from everywhere—the doll, the hallway, every room in my house. I couldn’t escape it.
Suddenly, a flash of white shot across the room from behind me and stopped in front of the fireplace. The girl was more translucent now and her face was twisted in pain. She tried to lift the doll from the fireplace, but her hands went straight through what was left of its body. I watched as the girl began to turn black, as if she too was in the fire.
She yelled and turned toward me, anger in her dead eyes. She moved closer to me, but her steps were slow and heavy, as if each movement took all of her energy. I don’t know why I didn’t run, but my body wouldn’t uncurl itself and my eyes wouldn’t look away from her as she came closer and closer, more of her turning black with each labored step. When she was a couple feet away, my body woke up. I sprung to my feet and stumbled backward. She was moving much slower than I was, but I didn’t dare turn away from her. As I backed up, my foot caught on the edge of the couch. I fell to the floor and the girl leapt into the air, mouth open wide in a scream. I echoed her scream, certain I would feel those sharp teeth sink into my skin in seconds, but as she flew toward me, her body began to dissolve into black smoke until there was nothing left. I was alone.
I sat there—I don’t know how long—waiting for her to return. Finally, I crawled to the fireplace and looked into the ashes. The fire had burned out, and only the shattered pieces of porcelain remained of the doll. I reached down into the ash and lifted out every piece of the doll I could find. I didn’t care if the ashes were still hot—if they were, I didn’t feel it. I wrapped them in newspaper and went into my backyard. I grabbed a shovel and dug a hole in the far edge of my lawn and buried the pieces.
It’s been an hour since I buried the doll. I haven’t seen the girl, but I’m not sure she’s really gone. I feel like I’m being watched—like I did last night. I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid if I go to work, she’ll be waiting for me when I get back, but I don’t want to stay here either. I keep thinking I hear her laughing, but that’s just in my head, right?
Copyright Rebecca McKeown 2013