Juliet looked at the man standing on her concrete doorstep. He looked comical in his navy blue suit and yellow tie with a bright orange bicycle helmet on his head, reminding her of a traffic cone. The aviator sunglasses topped off the look of someone that was trying hard to impress his employers at the local lawyer firm, but only able to afford a bicycle for conducting the required deliveries. The heat of the summer’s day made his suit look deflated, hanging off his thin, twenty-something frame. Juliet could tell he did not enjoy cycling in a suit on a hot August morning, as a bead of sweat slowly rolled down his temple past his right eye under the arm of the sunglasses before being swiped away by his hand.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” he repeated.
Juliet had heard that line many times over the last few days, making it now sound hollow and fake. She forced herself to smile at the man standing in her doorway, as he lifted up a brown manila envelope and held up between them. It hung there, limp in his hand, as if also melting from the heat. Juliet looked over at his red bicycle parked on her driveway, internally surprised that she didn’t see flames painted on it given his outfit. The outside heat made her dizzy standing in the doorway of her air-conditioned home, as if the air currents between the hot and cold were pushing against each other, forming an unsteady pocket around her. Juliet grimaced and grabbed the envelope out of his hands, not wanting to spend any more time talking with the man.
She closed the door before he could say another word, not caring if she came across as rude. She was sure that the delivery man knew nothing about her great aunt. Very few people did. The funeral was a few days earlier and only a handful of family members bothered to show up for a brief attendance before taking off, back out of town to their homes and lives. Juliet was pretty sure that they attended more for the free food and for the will reading that she hadn’t attended. No one really cared about paying respects for Great Aunt Millie.
Mildred had been a spinster that preferred to be distant from the world. A few years back, she had managed to strike it rich with a lottery ticket. Everyone thought perhaps she would want to share her millions with her family and come out of her shell a little, but Mildred had plans of her own. She built a large, dull gray mansion with her money and barricaded herself indoors. Getting an invite to enter the house was rare. Juliet’s grandmother, Sue, Mildred’s sister, was the last to get an invite before Mildred shut everyone out completely. Sue had told Juliet that the house was dark and dull on the inside, similar to how the house made you feel as you walked up to the front door. Mildred kept the lights turned low or off completely, and most of the furniture was covered with white, dusty sheets, removing any sense of a welcoming atmosphere to visitors. Mildred didn’t want anyone to stay for long.
Shortly after Sue’s visit with Mildred at the house, Juliet’s grandmother had passed away unexpectedly. It took the entire family by surprise, especially Juliet. Sue had been more like a mother to her than a grandmother, as she had been living with Sue since she was barely six years old. Juliet’s parents had died in a car accident and Sue was the only family willing to take her in.
When Mildred refused to attend Sue’s funeral, Juliet became infuriated with her great aunt, refusing to try and reach out to her after the funeral. What kind of person refused to pay their respects to their only sister? After Sue’s funeral, Mildred shut the doors of the mansion to her family, only allowing in the cleaning ladies and her meal delivery service. Even the staff were not allowed to stay longer than necessary. No one was sure what Mildred did while in the home alone, but she wouldn’t even open the door if someone stopped by to check on her. The curtains on the main floor windows stayed closed at all times, so no one could look in. For the past year, everyone pondered how much longer the old spinster would be alive given her unusual hermit behaviour. It had to be lonely in the large home, all alone, especially after losing your sister and shutting out the world.
Juliet missed her grandmother Sue very much and was reminded just how much after she heard about Mildred’s body being found by her cleaning ladies. Apparently, great aunt Millie had passed away in her sleep. Her heart had given out even though she had never had problems with it before. Even the doctors were surprised, as they had expected she was healthy enough to live a much longer life.
Juliet was Mildred’s only family member remaining in in their small town of less than 10,000 people. Juliet wasn’t surprised when she received the phone call from the lawyer’s office in town. She knew that Mildred had kept a will, but she didn’t expect that she had inherited anything, given the women’s cold regard of family. She figured that her great aunt likely donated everything just to ensure that her family would get nothing. The lawyers refused to discuss it over the phone, but had told her that they would have the paperwork delivered. Now she stood in her entryway with the paperwork in her hands. She turned the envelope over, realizing how small and light it felt.
“Gee, Aunt Millie, what could you have possibly wanted me to have?”
Juliet walked back into the kitchen at the end of the hallway and sat down at the small, white dining room table. She gently lifted the flap on the envelope and pulled out the documents that the lawyers had put together inside, laying them flat on the circular table in front of her. She skimmed over the preliminary text, searching for the section that would explain what she was receiving. When she finally found it, she was confused by what she read.
Ms. Mildred D. Jederson bequeaths the following items to Ms. Juliet L. Thomspon:
One collection of antique dolls
“Really? I get some old dolls? That is what the lawyer’s couldn’t discuss with me over the phone?”
Juliet was annoyed by the inconvenience that this envelope had caused her. She had to stay home from work to wait for the envelope to be delivered. She wasn’t sure that her boss at the local accounting office would be impressed that she had to miss work to receive a letter about dolls. Juliet sighed, signing the piece of paper saying she read and understood the terms before stuffing it back into the envelope, no longer caring about it becoming wrinkled. She put the envelope into her laptop bag that she had left on the chair beside her. She stood up and walked over to the small kitchen counter near the side entrance to the house, grabbing her keys and walking out of the house to her red Chevrolet Spark that was parked in the gravel driveway. She would drop off the envelope at the lawyer’s office on her way back to work so that she wouldn’t have to wait for when the delivery guy could come back.
Given the small size of the town, it didn’t take long to give the paperwork to the small, stout woman working at the front desk in the lawyer’s office. The office smelled musty, similar to that of a used bookstore. She was happy to leave the office behind to never return and go back about her normal Friday morning routine. She arrived at the office a few minutes later and sat down at her small cubicle in the middle of the small accounting firm. There were only three of them working in the cubicles, but the only offices in the small building were saved for the two partners of the firm. Juliet worked past her usual office hours to make up for the time that she had missed that morning, hoping that her boss would take notice of her willingness to make up for lost time. She was still fairly new to the firm and was more of an assistant than an actual accountant so far, so she wanted to make sure she kept up a good impression. It hadn’t been easy to land the job in the small office after she had to take her courses online. There wasn’t a school close enough for her to commute back and forth to get her degree on campus and she couldn’t bring herself to sell her grandmother’s home after inheriting it. College tuition had also been easier to afford when she could live rent free and work at a local restaurant in the evenings.
At the end of the day, as Juliet was pulling her car back into the driveway, it was already dusk outside. The streetlights were turning on as she passed them, giving off their yellow glow against the navy and purple sky above. The smell of the greasy burger and fries from the take-out she picked up on her way home filled the small interior of her 2-door car, making her stomach growl. As she pulled up to her house, her headlights shone against something large and square on her doorstep. She realized two large boxes were sitting beside her front door.
“What the hell could that be? I didn’t order anything.”
She pulled in the rest of the way and parked her car. She let herself in through the side door of the house and dropped the greasy take-out back on the kitchen table along with her keys. She pulled out one of the kitchen chairs, flinching at the squeal that the bottom of the chair made on the linoleum floor, and dropped her laptop bag into it.
“I guess my food will have to wait. I wonder if the boxes were delivered to my house by mistake,” she mumbled as she walked to open the front door.
She turned on the porch light and stood looking down at the boxes in front of her. They had no writing or labels indicating where they had come from. They weren’t even taped shut on the top. Instead the flaps were folded into each other to prevent the top from opening up. Juliet looked and felt along the sides of the boxes and then noticed the edge of a white folded piece of paper sticking out from under one of the flaps. Juliet pulled it out and read:
Sorry for leaving these outside. The office wanted me to make sure that you received these today, but you weren’t home when I got here. I didn’t want to stand around in the dark with these things.
Juliet rolled her eyes. She couldn’t believe how superstitious some people could be. Nothing about their small town was scary, not even at night. It was a quiet and small, where nothing ever happened. Everyone had been amazed that her great aunt had wanted to build a mansion here, since they weren’t common in the area. Usually when people made large amounts of money, they took that as an opportunity to leave town, not build a bigger house to live in.
Juliet looked back down at the boxes near her feet. One of the flaps of the box that the note had been tucked under had partially lifted, so Juliet pulled the flap back fully to see inside. A pair of shiny glass eyes peered back up at her from under the flap. The white face was shiny under the porch light, giving the doll the appearance that it was wet. It almost looked as though tears had been falling down the doll’s face, as if it was sad at the loss of its owner.
“Holy shit. Why would Aunt Millie want to look at these horrid looking things every day? And why would she think that I want them?”
Juliet quickly flipped the flap back under to ensure it stay closed and lifted up the first box closest to her. She had thought the box would be lighter than it was, and almost dropped it back onto the porch step as she lost her balance slightly and it began to slide through her fingers. She could hear the sound of porcelain clinking together inside the box as the dolls shifted.
“For crying out loud! How many bloody dolls did she leave me?”
Juliet carefully reassessed the weight of the box in her arms and firmed her grip on the box, standing back up. Once she felt that she had a good enough hold on the box, she slowly backed into her nearby living room and slowly lowered the box onto the floor. She went back and grabbed the second box, this time taking more care to lift with her legs instead of assuming that the box would be light. Back inside the house, she put the second box down on top of the first. She then turned back and closed the front door, sliding the deadbolt lock into place. She put her hands on her waist and assessed the boxes, debating what to do with them. Her stomach growled again.
“Sorry dollies, but I’m hungry from a long day at work. Unfortunately, that burger and fries will not taste good if it gets cold. Instead it becomes an unappetizing, congealed mess. So you will have to wait in those boxes until later.”
Juliet shook her head, thinking about the absurdity that her crazy great aunt enjoyed having piles of dolls around. She turned and walked back to her kitchen, grabbing her phone out of her laptop bag on the opposite chair before sitting down and opening up the take-out bag. She could smell the grease from the fried foods inside the bag as the aroma rose out of the bag and her mouth immediately salivated. She hadn’t eaten since lunch hour that day, which was now roughly nine hours ago.
The paper bag crinkled loudly as Juliet pulled the food out of the bag and placed it in front of her. She unwrapped the burger and dumped the fries out onto the wrapping before picking up her phone. She turned the screen on and opened her favourite app to start scrolling through videos while she ate, laughing at the absurdity of people trying to classify their videos as entertainment. Within a few minutes, the dolls were no longer taking up mental space in her mind. Once she had enough of the food, she threw the various wrappers, leftover fries, and napkins back into the paper bag. She used her hand to sweep the crumbs off the table into the bag before rolling the top of the bag down over itself. As she went to throw the items into the trash can under the sink, she heard a soft thump come from the living room. It made her twist her head to look towards the hallway, her hand still dangling the bag over the garbage can and her other hand holding the cupboard door open.
“What could that be?”
She finally let go of the bag into the trash and rinsed her hands off in the sink, the water ice cold against her fingers, but she didn’t want to wait for the water to warm up. She turned the tap off and grabbed the blue checkered dishtowel from where it was hanging on the oven door, drying her hands as she walked back towards the living room. As she neared the opening between the hallway and the living room floor, she noticed that the stack of two boxes was now only a stack of one. As she got closer, she saw that the box that she had put on top had toppled over, spilling out three dolls across the living room floor.
“Dammit. I thought I stacked those well enough,” she complained as she knelt down to pick up the box that had turned over on the floor, dropping the damp towel onto her glass coffee table nearby.
One of the dolls had rolled under the coffee table while the other two had rolled to the right, both laying face up near the TV stand. She grabbed the one from under her coffee table first, throwing it into the box without paying it much attention. Then she shifted towards the other two, still on her knees. As she got closer, she noticed the eyes on one of them seemed to glimmer, almost looking like the painted pupils had shifted slightly towards her. Juliet recoiled slightly, pulling her hand back away from the doll at first. Then she realized that the light from a streetlight outside of her living room window must have caused the illusion.
“Oh dear. I seem to be getting the jitters myself tonight. I guess I can’t entirely blame the delivery guy now. Pull it together, Juliet. They are just dolls, nothing more.”
She reached down and grabbed the doll, pulling it in closer to look at the face a little more carefully. It had a slight crack within the white porcelain that started near its lip and went up behind its right eye. She passed her finger over the crack, but it was smooth and cold, as if the crack wasn’t even there. The eyes were green with blue flecks around the edges of the iris, just like her grandmother Sue’s used to have. Juliet felt a chill go through her and quickly dropped the doll into the box. She grabbed at the last doll’s leg, this time less careful than the last and purposely avoided looking at its face. She dropped the doll into the box and folded down the flaps snug into each other before standing up.
She leaned down to pick up the box when she heard rustling and a popping sound directly behind her. She jumped and turned quickly, preparing herself for an intruder, but no one was there. It was just her empty hallway behind her. She walked into the hallway, double checking that the front door deadbolt was still locked. Nothing had changed, making her wonder if she had imagined the noise. She shrugged her shoulders and turned back to the boxes in the living room. That was when she realized what had made the noise. The flaps of the other box that she had been knelt down in front of had opened, revealing the other dolls laying on their backs inside. Their eyes were all turned up, looking at the ceiling. Juliet shuddered at the look of the dolls. She leaned down to fold the flaps back into each other so that she wouldn’t have to look at them any longer.
“Okay, I think I am going to move these into the basement. I will see if I can find a place to donate them to tomorrow, as I definitely don’t think I want to keep these around any longer than I have to. And then I seriously need to stop talking to myself so much. What is with today?”
She bent down and picked up the first box, walking back through the kitchen to the stairs by the refrigerator that went into the basement. She carefully walked down the stairs, ensuring each foot was firmly placed on a step before moving onto the next. The box made it awkward to move down the narrow stairs and she was unable to see her feet. Once at the bottom, she looked around the small basement, the smell of mildew filling her nostrils. She carefully shifted the box onto one hip so that she could reach over it and pull down on the string for the single light in the basement. As the light flickered on, Juliet squinted her eyes against the sudden white light glaring down on her. Even with the bright light, the shadows around the basement were plentiful, as Juliet’s grandmother had various shelving installed after a flood had wrecked the floor in the basement when Juliet was young.
“Now, where to put you so that you don’t get wrecked if it floods down here.”
She tapped her finger against the side of the box while contemplating a good placement. She noticed a bare desk in the corner of the room, where the light didn’t quite reach.
“Good enough for short term storage.”
Juliet realized she couldn’t seem to stop talking to herself. She wondered if the creepy dolls and the passing of her great aunt were affecting her more than she realized. She walked over and dropped the box onto the desk, pushing it back against the wall away from the edge of the desk to ensure that it wouldn’t fall. She then turned and quickly ran up the stairs to grab the second box. As she came back down and placed it on the desk beside the first, she felt her stomach twisting. Pain was starting to cramp in her stomach, as the take-out food started to roll around as if a wrestling match was going on between the fries and burger.
“Oh boy, that supper might have been a mistake.”
Liz quickly turned to run back up the stairs, pulling the cord for the light to turn off as she went. The blackness of the basement made her slow down to be careful on the stairs as she started to run up them. In her rush, she didn’t hear the sound of something shift slightly in the basement behind her. Instead, she was concentrated on getting to a bathroom as quickly as possible.
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