The Broken Doll

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: True Confessions  |  House: Booksie Classic


Those witchy amber eyes call to me in the dark....

Submitted: June 19, 2018

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Submitted: June 19, 2018

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The creepiest thing I found after moving into a new home is the broken doll in the closet under the stairs. You probably want to hear the whole story about the creepy doll, so I’ll tell it to you. It may have been a case of witchcraft or demonic possession. Perhaps it was something darker, something far more inscrutable and difficult to understand - an entity from an alternate dimension - a visitant from an alien world. It’s a deeply convoluted mystery of the paranormal. I’ll narrate the facts to you as I know them, so that you may have the opportunity to judge for yourself.

It all began nearly a decade ago in the autumn of the year when I, at long last, had finally achieved the financial means to purchase my first home. I made a $24,000 down payment to buy a two-story house on the north side of town in the Mandrake district. It was an old house. It had been built 91 years ago as a residence for the postmaster when that branch of the postal service first opened in 1927. I should have known there was a grim secret lurking over that dreary old house, because the closing date for me to become the new owner was October 31. If you ever buy a house, don’t set the closing for All Hallows’ Eve.

I didn’t have a whole lot of furniture, so the movers had already delivered all my belongings by the morning after I took possession. I mostly had books because I’m a writer and I do a lot of reading, but before unpacking my treasured library, I went upstairs to put clean sheets and pillow cases on the bedding because I knew how tired I’d be later that night. I didn’t want to procrastinate and end up falling-down sleepy then have to make the bed before I could crash.

While I was trekking back down the high straight staircase, I thought I heard a ‘thud’ come from somewhere underneath me. I paused to listen, but the ominous sound didn’t repeat itself. I descended to the first floor, then turned to walk up the hall. My bare feet were fainter than a whisper on the cold hardwood floor. That floor seemed colder than it should have been, unseasonably cold, as if there was ice under the parquet. I saw a door in the shadows under the stairs. This struck me as odd, because when Dotty, the sixty-something orange-haired real estate lady who sold me the old house, had shown the place, I didn’t remember noticing a door under the stairs.

It was a weird door — the top of it angled to match the incline of the staircase. Cautiously I reached for the little tarnished brass knob, turned it, and the ill-omened door creaked slowly open.

It was a closet, a surprisingly big closet. In the stale gloom, I could just make out a naked unlighted bulb hanging from the dark ceiling. The dusty bulb had one of those old-time chains with a bit of string hanging from it. I pulled the string, but the light didn’t come on. I replaced the dead bulb with a new one that I knew would work, but when I pulled the chain, the light still didn’t come on. That strange closet was an uncanny space of skulking shadow.

As my eyes slowly adjusted to the stark dimness, I could see something slouching in the far corner. I went for a flashlight. When I aimed the yellow beam into the corner, I saw a child’s doll. The puzzling toy was not a pleasant sight. The wretched doll had obviously suffered ill use at the naughty hands of a very vigorous playmate. Its little pink dress was dirty and ripped half off. The face was soiled, dented, scarred. One of its little plastic arms was missing. I don’t know why, maybe some bizarre instinctual premonition, but I did not want to touch that dirty broken doll. There was something threatening about it. The dull impression I felt oozing from its chubby features was somehow malevolent. The hideous thing was creepy.

I wanted that grotesque object out of my house. Drawing a deep breath of fortitude, I stepped quickly forward and stooped down. When I touched the doll, my skin crawled. The ghastly thing made a sound, a little cry as if I were hurting it. At first I thought it was one of those dolls that you squeeze the belly and it says, “Mama!” or whatever, but I had grabbed the doll by one of its plump crooked legs. I wondered about the mysterious cry, but I didn’t want to examine the doll in the closet. I don’t know how it was, but it just didn’t seem like that hideous doll and I were alone in the closet. I felt a presence, as if someone unseen was in there with us.

I stepped out of the closet into the hall, which wasn’t the brightest place in the old house, and aimed the flashlight into the tattered doll’s unnerving face. That’s when I first saw those haunting amber eyes. What sort of doll has amber eyes? Blue or brown or green, okay, but amber? I had never seen a doll with amber eyes. It was unnatural, ghoulish. I felt as if those goblin amber eyes could see darkness in my soul. That hideous doll’s creepy irises stirred a disquieting memory from the gray mental dust of long years past. I thought of Stephanie and that moonless night in January at the Falls Chase crossing when the thin veneer of ice that we couldn’t see made the car skid off the old timber bridge into the frozen river below.

I shook my head hard to cast the morbid images out. I chastised myself that I was being ridiculous, but those unnatural amber eyes were staring at me, hollow and eerie, like the thing was reading my mind, like it knew what I was thinking.

With the flashlight aimed at the doll’s damaged face, I could see something red in its throat. I focused the beam right into the mouth. I saw a red hard candy at the back of its tongue. With a gruff motion, I marched to the kitchen with the idea of throwing the doll out the back door into the trash can, then dumping the trash into the banged-up slimy metal dumpster in the alley where the garbage truck would haul it off and I’d never see the creepy doll again.

I didn’t spend too much time wondering how a red hard candy got jammed into a doll’s throat, I just wanted the thing out of the house, so I walked to the back door and tossed it. I heard the garbage truck lumbering down the alley, and I thought right then that I should hurry to the dumpster to get rid of the doll, but my phone rang and I got distracted talking to the electrician I had hired to repair the shoddy wiring in the old house. Later on that night, I sorely wished that I had rushed to the back alley in time for the garbage truck to haul that evil doll away and out of my life forever.

Needless to say, it had been a long tiresome day. Moving into a new house is always like that. It wears you out physically and emotionally. The hands on my mantle clock indicated it was close to midnight when I showered, dried with the only towel I could find, then pulled the sheet and blanket back to let myself fall onto the soft mattress in total exhaustion for some much needed sleep, but I couldn’t plop down onto my tempting bed because that creepy dirty doll was lying there.

It felt like flames burst from my skin. I admit I was shocked and terrified half to death, but my embarrassment at being so frightened, so jump-scared as it were, at what I thought was an inanimate object that I had gotten rid of irritated me to such an unruly extent that my next reaction was one of rage, but I didn’t stay mad long, because I heard the doll cry out with the same faint sickening ululation of helplessness as when I had grabbed it by the leg earlier that afternoon.

The hammer I had been using to remove several inexplicable weirdly protruding rusty nails from the bedroom wall was lying on a night stand near the bed. I was tempted to bash the demonic doll to a bloody pulp, but again my sensible presence of mind stepped forward to override raw unbridled emotion.

I scooped the foul doll up off the bed, trudged downstairs to the kitchen, and threw the accursed thing out the back door into the trash can. I closed the door and locked it. I was about to turn off the kitchen light to go back upstairs, but I noticed one of the cabinet doors under the sink was standing open. I didn’t remember leaving it open, but I’m a neat-freak so I stepped across the kitchen to push the door closed. When I reached out my hand for the errant cabinet door, I froze dead in my tracks. Scratched, as with a knife point or sharp fingernail, into the soft wood of the inside of the cabinet door was a stick figure sketch of what I interpreted to be a little girl in a triangle dress holding hands with an even smaller little girl, which, my harried brain supposed, could have been a doll, because the smaller little girl stick figure’s feet weren’t touching the ground, and she was drawn at an angle as if she were dangling from the bigger little girl’s hand. Underneath the cryptic stick figure etching, a foreboding message was scrawled, “You are not alone here.”

A sudden rush of icy air swept through the kitchen raising goose bumps on my flesh and making the little hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It felt like the temperature in the kitchen had instantly dropped twenty degrees. I left the vexing frigid kitchen immediately, but I did not turn off the light. On the contrary, as I walked back along the hall and then up the creaking stairs, I switched on every light - every light that would come on. Half the lights were inoperative. I didn’t know how I would get a wink of sleep that night. I thought of leaving the old house to go spend the night with a friend, but then I considered that I was tired and overwrought, merely a bit jittery and uneasy due to the unfamiliar surroundings. My imagination was running away with me. I somehow managed to convince myself that the evilly-shadowed aura surrounding the creepy doll was just a case of nerves at spending the first night in my new home. So, with the classically celebrated spirit of the indomitable, I sat up in bed reading to get my mind off the disquieting events that had plagued me, but my exhaustion was replete and sleep soon overcame me.

I slept until noon the next day. I woke to the sound of thunder. Drizzling rain pattered down outside soaking everything in the glum mood of the iron-gray sky. Those were the darkest storm clouds I ever remember seeing. Though it was noonday, the heavy umbra of the brooding lowering sky smothered the atmosphere with the morose gloaming of encroaching dusk. I lay there with my eyes half shut. My arms and legs were listless as lead weights. An all-pervading deep soreness pressed down on my lethargic bones. A flash of lightning - had I seen a shadow on the wall? There was a presence in the room with me. I could feel it. I was sluggishly drowsy. I was abnormally tired. So much had been going on lately - the publisher breathing down my neck about the deadline for the new novel, the stress of qualifying for a home loan, financing approval from underwriting, settling into new digs - I desperately needed rest. Thinking I could sleep again in the soothing foggy mood, I rolled over. I saw the amber eyes of the one-armed demon doll lying beside me on the bed.

I shot up off the mattress with a thunderbolt amid another flash of phantom green lightning. I stood there in my pajamas trembling in utter disbelief at the mortifying object that grinned obscenely at me from the inviolate sanctity of my bed. Downstairs in the kitchen, I heard the back door slam shut, then the sound of laughter somewhere outside the house. I dashed to the window and looked through the rain-streaked glass. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A little girl in a dress was running across the back yard toward the gate that led into the alley.

A prank. Some bratty little kids in the neighborhood were playing a prank on the new guy. In a mad fury, I grabbed the ugly doll off the bed and flew downstairs leaping over the steps two at a time. I ran through the kitchen and out into the icy rain. I sprinted across the weed-choked sod, my bare feet splashing through the soggy muck. I slid sideways to the gate, almost falling face down in a deep puddle. I looked up and down the bleak alley. Blinking my eyes in the frigid ticklish raindrops, I scanned intensely, but saw no little girl.

What I did see was a woman with her back to me. She was walking away from me down the dead deserted alley. Over her head, she held a huge purple umbrella covered all over with yellow crescent moons and pale blue five-point stars. I jogged up, slowing a few paces behind her, “Hello?” I gasped, nearly out of breath. The woman stopped walking, then slowly turned to face me. Cold fingers dripping dread crawled up my tightening spine.

Her mouth and nose had been horribly disfigured. A birth defect? An accident? Whatever the case, there I was, with the undivided attention of the mysterious woman in the somber alley. The two of us transfixed in the drenching icy rain, although her umbrella completely shielded her from the incessant drizzle.

She reminded me of a madame, a fortuneteller, a psychic. Some years ago while conducting research into a series of unexplained disappearances I was investigating at the time, I had attended a coven meeting with a group of women who referred to themselves as eclectic practitioners of Wicca. The woman I met in the rainy alley behind my spooky old house looked like she would have fit in very nicely with that coven. If I had ever in my life borne witness to the vintage palm-reader personality type, I was seeing it at that moment.

Her long flowing garments were multiple brightly-colored floral-print layers of blouses and skirts, like sheer curtains wafting in an autumn breeze. Big bangle bracelets, bangle hoop earrings, the woman must have had on a dozen necklaces sporting pendants, amulets, semi-precious stones, beads, charms, and a silver locket. I wondered what was hidden in that enigmatic locket. An alluring indigo scarf was elegantly twirled into her voluminous slightly graying strawberry-blond hair. I was almost afraid to speak to her, but in my disgruntlement, I was determined to plumb the mystery of the eerie ghost doll to the very bottom.

“Pardon me, miss, but do you know of any residents nearby who have children, little girls, they let run loose in the neighborhood like wild unruly hellions?”

The gypsy woman approached me face to face. The terribly scarred flesh of her mouth and nose was pitiful. My stomach turned over. With a disconcerting expression of sad sympathy in her soft hazel eyes, she gazed directly at me for a long moment, then shook her head slowly from side to side. This miffed me even worse than I already was, “What?” I spouted, not hiding my contempt for her offensively odd behavior.

“So much pain,” said she, still peering deeply into my eyes, “so much hurt bottled up inside, kept locked away from others for so many long years. You are so alone, but you don’t have to be. There is one calling to you, but the guilt in your heart drowns the voice that can set you free. What happened at Falls Chase was not your fault. Let go of the past. Answer the call of the voice that can cleanse your soul of ache and open your heart to the blessed light of everlasting pure sweet love.”

I couldn’t manage to ponder over how it was this mysterious stranger knew what she appeared to know about me, because the searing sizzling burn of shame-fueled anger made me see red. I’m afraid I was very blunt and rude when I lashed out with, “Excuse me, psycho witch! I didn’t mean to trouble you!”

I turned and started to walk away when she spoke again in her soothing intonations that flowed into my ears like warm honey.

“There’s only one little girl in this neighborhood.”

I turned to her, expectant, yet still fuming, “Oh yeah? What house does she live in? I need to have a talk with her parents.”

The clairvoyant looked over my shoulder, “She lives there,” the musical voice cooed. I turned to look. Bangle-lady was pointing at my house.

I gave her a last sneering look of contempt, then stomped back down the alley through the disgusting puddles. My pajamas were soaked in numbing cold rain. I was drenched to the skin. I tossed the nightmare doll over into the foul-smelling dumpster. Entering my backyard, I closed the gate, but the latch was busted - it wouldn’t stay shut. In a huff I marched to my house, slamming the back door and locking it when I entered the kitchen. I went around making sure all the doors and windows were securely locked, then I found the box where my towels were packed, grabbed one out, and tramped upstairs for a long hot shower.

When I got out of the steamy bathroom and dried myself thoroughly, I called the real estate agent to inquire as to the previous owners of the dreary old house. I asked if there had been any children living there - in particular, had there been any young daughters, any girls.

“Oh, there’s a tragic story there,” Dotty’s voice dropped into her hushed gossip tones, you’d have thought we were paying respects in a funeral parlor, “As it happens, there was a little girl who went missing one afternoon. Her father is a truck driver. He was out of town when it happened. The missing girl’s mother and older sister looked all over the house and outside in the yard. They went up and down the street calling for her and knocking on doors to find out if neighbors had seen her, but nobody had. They went back to the house to call the police. They heard something ‘thump’ in the closet under the stairs. They opened the door and looked in, but that light hasn’t worked for years. Every time someone has it repaired, it blows out again, so they had to use a flashlight to peer through the gloom. They both screamed loud enough to be heard several houses away at what they saw. The little girl was slumped in the corner. She had choked on a piece of hard candy. Her mother, being a paramedic, used the Heimlich maneuver, abdominal thrusts, to dislodge the candy from her daughter’s throat. With CPR she managed to restore a pulse and rush the unconscious child to the hospital, but the poor little girl’s blood had been deprived of oxygen for too long. She suffered brain damage. The prognosis was grim - intellectual development would never progress beyond that of a toddler. Why do you ask?”

“No reason in particular,” I replied in my most nonchalant tone. I didn’t want the real estate lady to think I had bats in my attic. “I found a child’s toy, a doll, and I thought the owner might be missing it. It’s sad to hear about the awful tragedy, a terrible thing. The family must be devastated. What do you say when such an unthinkable accident happens? What words of comfort can you offer?”

“I don’t know that there is anything that can be said.”

At that point, I was regretting my mistake of asking about the previous owners. I didn’t want to tell Dotty I had thrown the doll away. How cruel that would seem under the circumstances, but I had to have an alibi in case Dotty happened to speak to the family and they wanted the doll because it belonged to the sad little girl. I thought fast. My mind alighted upon a plausible scenario.

“I suppose I’ll donate the doll to a charity for children.” I was doing my best to avert suspicion, “you don’t think the family would ever want the doll returned to them, do you?”

“I doubt it,” was Dotty’s glib reply, which sent a wave of relief through my torso that turned to ice in my veins when she added, “the little girl died.”

“What?”

“Yes, it happened at the Halloween party. Her mother had to go to the bathroom so she left strict instructions for her eldest daughter to carefully watch over the mentally impaired little girl, but the older sister is only thirteen; you know how easy it is for someone that age to get distracted. While her mother was in the lavatory, one of the other kids had seen the little girl crawl into the cabinet under the sink. When they rushed into the kitchen to get her out, she wasn’t breathing. Apparently, she hadn’t downed dish detergent or cleaning fluid or any of the other chemicals people usually have under a kitchen sink, because a tox-screen showed no poison in her system. Doctors are puzzled as to the cause of death. As close as can be determined, when the little girl crawled under the sink she asphyxiated, but there are no indications as to how her air supply could have gotten cut off.”

This was too much. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I had to get off the phone. I needed time to think.

“Oh, I see. Well, thanks, Dotty, I appreciate your help.”

“No trouble at all. I’m glad to help any way I can.”

I knew the phone call wasn’t going to end that easily. Dotty could never say goodbye without her usual matchmaking pitch. I had heard it a hundred times if I had heard it once, “Hey, you know, Sean, I was just thinking, that house is awfully big for a man to live there all by himself. The place really needs a woman’s touch to transform it from a house into a home. My secretary, Alicia, she’s still single. Want her phone number? I can put in a good word for you.”

“Ah, well, not at the moment, Dotty, but I’ll think about it and let you know.”

“Promise?”

“Yeah, I promise.”

There was no way it could all be merely coincidence. The poor little girl mysteriously chokes to death under a kitchen sink on Halloween, the same day I became owner of the rundown old house. There was something diabolical, some unseen plotting thing lurking behind this eerie chain of macabre events. Twice I had thrown the dirty broken doll away, and twice it had returned. This time, though, I had hurled the sinister thing over into the big metal dumpster. There was no way it could come back now.

Exhausted as I was, terror of sleep forbade me going upstairs to bed that night. In the cozy arm chair in my study, I remained awake reading. My normal fare consisted of Lovecraft, Poe, and Stoker, but that night I opened my Emily Dickinson volume. It must have been around midnight when I could fight sleep no longer. Apparently, in spite of my efforts to resist slumber, I had fallen victim to its resistless misty spell. I woke in a start from a bizarre nightmare.

As best I can remember, the portentous dream began with me standing in a shoe store at the mall. My sister wanted me to go right then to the wilderness camp with her. I reminded her that we were in the city and that the wilderness camp was a two day drive north. She told me not to worry, because she had a way for us to instantly disappear from the city and reappear far away at the north woods wilderness camp. She told me she had the boat on the trailer hooked to her 4x4. She said for me to watch for her. The plan was that when she pulled up and parked by the window, I was to walk out the side door and we would instantly be at the wilderness camp.

My sister strolled silently off with her back to me. She did not bid farewell. She vanished among the tall racks of shoes. While I was waiting for her to pull the truck around to the window, a casually attired young woman wearing a name tag that read ‘Mary Jane’ spoke to me from behind the checkout counter, “Do you smoke bong?”

I wasn’t sure my ears were giving me an accurate depiction of what they were telling me I was hearing. “What?” was my baffled response.

“Do you smoke bong?”

I looked around nervously to see if any of the other shoppers were listening. There were no other shoppers. I really didn’t know what to say to such a controversial and personal question being asked in public. I only spoke out of politeness, “Uh, well, yeah, I used to, but then I heard that the Surgeon General said smoking is bad for your lungs, so I quit.”

Mary Jane smiled. She pertly spun about to a tall shadowy shelf of brand new shoe-boxes behind her. Moving a few of the boxes aside, she reached into a darkened alcove. When she turned to me again, I saw her holding a silver serving tray with one of those domed covers on it like you see in Victorian houses and whodunit mysteries.

She placed the serving tray on the counter beside the cash register. She removed the cover. Underneath were a dozen oyster shells at which I gazed momentarily.

I gave her a puzzled look. Mary Jane said, “If you want, I can light them for you.”

I was silent, confused. She pulled a strike-anywhere match from her pocket. On the countertop near the serving tray, there was a ceramic figurine of a portly sow suckling a dozen piglets. Mary Jane struck the match across the sow’s round belly, then held the little yellow flame, one by one, to each of the oyster shells which lit as though they were candles. When the last oyster shell had been lighted, they all opened at the same time and to my surprise a miniature ballerina wearing a fluffy pink tutu popped out of each shell - twelve little ballerinas dancing on the silver serving tray. The ballerinas began to multiply. There were a hundred, then a thousand, then a hundred thousand. It didn’t look like they were going to stop anytime soon.

The playful little ballerinas floated up through the air and began filing into my ears where they danced all the way into my skull and clasped hands with my brain cells. Around and round the little music box ballerinas spun my brain cells, then all at once they shouted, “She wants you to put your thumbs on her belly and squeeze to get the red hard candy out of her throat!”

That was the chilling moment in the surreal dream sequence that jolted me awake. I was slumped in my cozy chair with the book of Emily Dickinson poems lying open on my lap. How could it be possible? How could that dirty shabby half-naked battered broken doll want me to remove the candy that was stuck in its throat?

I admonished myself for falling victim to a night terror, but what if it was true? If the garbage truck had emptied the dumpster again, the doll would be taken away. I began considering the disgusting act of going out to the city landfill to dig through the piles of stinking garbage in search of the sad ragged doll. What were the odds I’d find her? It would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. The idea was morbid, putrefying. Besides, if I really wanted to find her, all I’d have to do is go upstairs, lie down on my bed and go to sleep. When I woke, the ghostly doll would be lying beside me on the bed, those sinister amber eyes staring at me.

I couldn’t do it. The whole idea was preposterous. I was on my way to suffering a serious mental breakdown. Suddenly, that drab old house gave me the creeps. There was something ominous about it. All at once, the stale-smelling antique place seemed cursed. I had to get out of there. I called my cousin, Gabriel, out at Owl’s Head and told him I needed a place to stay for awhile. With his prudish wife and three young children, I worried about how he might react. He said the guestroom over the garage was mine for as long as I needed it. I left the grisly house immediately. My tormented mind was in such an emotionally disturbed state that I didn’t even bother locking the door on my way out.

The next day I called Dotty and told her to put a ‘for sale’ sign in the front yard. She was beside herself with disbelief and started asking me a million questions. I begged her to please let me explain later. Next, I called the movers to get my belongings out of that monstrous abode of evil.

I don’t really know anything about the people who bought the ill-omened house. Dotty said it’s a fringe organization that calls themselves ‘The Covenant’, what she describes as a fanatically zealous sect of evangelistic holy-rollers who preach that they are waging war on the Devil. Apparently, the new owners had the old place torn down.

About a year ago, amid the soulless melancholy of a breezy afternoon in November, I happened to meet up with a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen since high school out at the Oak Hollow cemetery on that lonely wooded stretch of Carver’s Mill road. He was visiting his grandfather’s grave. He told me the baleful house I bought, then sold immediately, had indeed been demolished, the rubble hauled off, the place abandoned as an empty lot grown up in weeds. Be that as it might, even after so many years have come and gone, there are nights when dreadful flashbacks haunt me in my sleep. I wake up gasping for air. I can see the witchy doll staring at me with those malevolent amber eyes and that grotesque piece of red hard candy stuck behind her tongue in the back of her throat.


© Copyright 2019 Sean Terrence Best. All rights reserved.

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