“How the hell did you get here?”
At first, Juliet thought about running from the house again, but her mind returned to earlier that morning. At the thought of the police officers laughing on their way out of the house, she wondered if this was what they were laughing about. Could they have seen the boxes of dolls in the basement and decided to play a practical joke on the young, paranoid woman that interrupted their morning coffee?
‘Surely they wouldn’t pull something like this,’ she thought, ‘but how else would the doll get here?’
Juliet stood in the doorway, pondering the doll wishing her friends hadn’t all moved from the small town so that she could call one of them to come over. As she looked the doll over, annoyed at the officers for putting it there, the doll’s dress reminded Juliet of someone. The memory itched at the back of her mind. She carefully walked to her dresser against the wall on the right side of the room. In the top drawer, there was a small box full of old pictures that her grandmother had kept. Pictures that Juliet just couldn’t throw out. She stood to the side of the dresser and propped the lid off the box, picking up a handful of photographs from the top.
As she sifted through the photographs, her eyes never left the doll for long. She couldn’t shake the feeling that it was going to move if she didn’t keep a careful eye on it. Finally, she came to the picture that she was thinking of. There was her grandmother, Sue, as a child around 7 years old standing beside Mildred, who was wearing a similar floral dress to that on the doll. Mildred had a scowl on her face, but Sue was smiling wide. Juliet glanced from the picture to the doll and back again.
“It’s uncanny. Aunt Millie must have had a doll made to look just like her.”
Juliet walked over to the doll, carefully picking it up and looking over its face. Its eyes shone as if it had been crying, just like the doll from the previous night. An electrical spark sent a shock through her arm that was holding the doll, harshly enough for her to almost drop it. She looked down at the doll, wondering how so much static electricity could have been held in the small porcelain shape. Turning away from the bed, Juliet walked back out of the room, making her way to the basement door. As she neared it, she paused. The thought of going down into the basement still didn’t feel like a good idea. Instead, she placed the doll on its back onto the small kitchen table.
“I’ll take it downstairs later. I need to get out for that walk.”
Juliet went back to her room and changed her shoes. Just before leaving through the side door, she decided to grab some money from her wallet before locking up the house. She realized that her stomach was growling, since her last meal had been the breakfast she had from the gas station restaurant earlier that day. Walking towards Main Street, the list of available restaurants in the town ran through her mind. She wanted something better than the greasy meal she had the night before that had kept her awake most of the night.At the reminder of the take-out food, she wondered if the bad night’s sleep mixed with the bad stomach from the food had made her imagination run wild, making up the issues with the basement door that morning. Eventually, distracted by birds flying overhead and busier streets as she neared Main Street, her mind drifted away until it was no longer on the dolls or the incident with the basement door. As she neared the gas station on the corner, she saw the quiet parking lot as a sign for a quick, easy meal that wouldn’t be greasy and make her sick.
Beads of sweat were falling down the back of her neck while she walked into the small restaurant for the second time that day. She felt the breeze from a vent overhead as she walked into the entrance off the gas station hallway, making goosebumps rise up on her moist neck. She shivered slightly, rubbing her arms in an attempt to warm up, as she walked over to the counter to make an order. A woman with greying, short, curly hair sitting in a booth a few feet away sighed heavily as she noticed Juliet. She started to bounce and slide herself out of the faux leather bench seat of the booth until she was able to brace herself on the side of the table to pull herself up to standing. Her apron had a faded yellow tinge to it, making Juliet wonder if it had once been white. The yellow, crusty apron looked appalling against the bright, pastel pink blouse and navy blue, skinny slacks that the woman wore underneath it.
“Can I help you with something?” the waitress asked as she rounded the corner of the counter and came to stand behind the cash register.
“Yes, please. Do you have any specials?”
The woman’s face shrouded in annoyance as she pointed up at the sign behind her without taking her eyes off Juliet. Her upper lip snarled slightly as she held a pen in her other hand poised over the small paper pad by the till.
“Oh, sorry, I’ll just take the egg salad sandwich with the garden salad, please.”
The waitress rolled her eyes and then wrote down the order. She rang the amount owing into the till and waited, without saying a word, for Juliet to hand over the amount displayed on the register. Juliet was looking forward to being done with the exchange, so she threw down the required bills and said, “Keep the change.”
Given it was only late afternoon, the restaurant was quiet. Juliet briefly looked over at the table where the woman had been sitting and noticed a coffee mug with a Search & Find book open to a half-finished page. She realized that the waitress may have been on break, explaining the rude behaviour. The supper rush, if there ever was one in this small town, would be starting soon. Juliet shrugged her shoulders slightly, deciding not to let the annoyance of the waitress bother her and walked over to the gas station to look through the magazine rack while she waited for her food to be ready. She didn’t have to wander the gas station aisles for long before she heard her name being called from the front counter next door. The waitress was behind the counter, impatiently waiting for Juliet to come back and pick up her food. She tossed the paper bag holding what Juliet assumed was her meal to the edge of the counter and turned her back to walk through the doors to the kitchen as Juliet approached the counter.
“Uh, thank you,” Juliet muttered sarcastically towards the woman, making a mental note not to come in at four o’clock on a Saturday in the future.
She picked up the paper bag and walked out of the restaurant, deciding not to look back. The heat of the summer day outside hit her as she walked through the glass door of the gas station, making her feel nauseous momentarily. The cold sweat that had formed on her neck from the air conditioning evaporated instantly. Walking back towards home, she thought about the long quiet evening ahead. She didn’t like the weekends since her friends all moved. They felt so lonely, especially after losing her grandmother. Pulling her shoulders up and deciding not to feel sorry for herself, Liz decided that she would pour herself a glass of wine and turn on a romantic comedy for the evening. Something to take her mind off the basement and the trick that the police officers had played on her earlier that day, along with the loneliness she felt. She would also research antique shops and stores taking donations of dolls. The sooner she could be rid of the dolls, the better.
When Juliet walked into the side door of her small house, the doll from her bedroom still lay on its back on the kitchen table. Her eyes glanced toward the basement door by impulse. Seeing it was still closed, she shook her head and laughed.
“What a weird day.”
She poured herself a glass of white wine from a half-empty bottle in the fridge and walked down the hallway to the living room, swinging the paper bag with her dinner in one hand, the cold glass of wine in the other. She sat the bag and wine glass down on the coffee table in front of the couch and pulled her phone out of her pocket to place it beside them before flopping down beside the laptop. She flipped through the channels of her television before switching to a streaming service and picking a sappy, romantic comedy that she had seen before. She didn’t want any more surprises today. Then she put her feet up on the coffee table, pulled the paper bag into her lap, and unrolled the top to start eating.
The rest of her evening went by with quiet laughter as she watched the movie, quickly followed by a second romantic comedy. She enjoyed her small meal from the restaurant, grateful for something freshly cooked and the large side salad that had come with it. When the second movie ended, she looked at her phone and saw that it was after ten o’clock.
“Well, it’s early and I likely won’t be able to sleep, but I might as well go get ready for bed. Maybe I’ll even have a long bath with a book first.”
She grabbed the paper bag that was bunched up with the empty garbage from her dinner from where she left it on the floor beside the couch. With her other hand, she turned the television off and picked up the empty wine glass. She walked down the short hallway to the kitchen, which was dark with the lights off and the sun no longer in the horizon outside. A dull glow came in through the kitchen window from the street lamps. Juliet dropped the crumpled bag into the garbage and the wine glass in the sink before she noticed a source of light from another direction. She blinked as the thin light shone into her eye. She paused in front of the sink, turning her head slightly to the right, realizing the thin light was coming through a small crack where the basement door sat ajar slightly.
At first, Juliet’s heart started to race. Almost as quickly, her thoughts shifted to earlier that day after the police officers left. She realized that she never opened the door to make sure that the light had been turned off by the officers. She took a deep breath, dropped her head down and resting her hands on the counter in front of her. She closed her eyes and thought about the situation, trying to remain logical.
“Okay, Juliet. Before you get into a panic, the light has probably been on all day. You never went down to make sure that it was turned off. The door was likely not closed all the way, and it finally just swung open from a draft created by the air conditioner or something. Now suck it up and go turn off that light!”
She took a deep breath, raising her shoulders so that she was standing up tall. Feeling empowered and a little more brave, she walked over and grabbed the doll that still lay on the kitchen table before swinging the basement door fully open and stomping down the skinny stairs into the basement. The light was glaring on the end of its string in the middle of the room, unmoving. Juliet paused at the bottom of the stairs, looking over at the dangling bulb. Staring for a few moments, as if the light would turn off or start swinging by itself, her eyes slowly broke away and shifted to the two boxes in the corner of the room. They were both still laying on the desk, where she had left them, but now they were open, the flaps of both sticking stiffly up in the air. One of the boxes had been pulled to the edge of the desk, no longer pushed back against the wall. Juliet walked over, swinging the doll in her hand while she walked, its hair briefly tickling the sides of her bare knees as it swung past. Without looking into the box, Juliet swung the doll that reminded her of Aunt Millie into the box. As soon as the doll clinked against the other porcelain dolls in the box, the light switched off, casting the basement into darkness. There were no windows to offer a dull glow into the small space, making it impossible to see anything.
Juliet froze. She held her breath, listening for any sign of movement behind her. The room was silent. Quickly, she spun around to run towards the stairs. She heard another clink of porcelain behind her, but she didn’t stop moving. She kept running towards the stairs. When she was almost at the top, her feet lost their balance, tripping as if something had interfered with her footing. Juliet crashed onto the hard, wooden steps, feeling something scrape against her shins. A hot stinging sensation spread across her leg, but she didn’t let it slow her down. Bracing her hands on the last few steps to gain her balance, she got her feet back into place on the stairs and ran the rest of the way up. As she burst into the kitchen at the top, she slammed the door behind her, pushing her back up against it as it closed. Her breathing was ragged and her heart pounded in her chest. She waited, listening for steps to start coming up the stairs, but nothing ever came.
After a few minutes of holding the door closed with her body, Juliet realized that no one was coming. She thought about the light being on all day. Then her mind returned to the laughing police officers that morning.
“Okay, let’s think about this logically,” she said as she leaned her head back to rest on the door, her eyes drifting up to stare at the ceiling in the dull grey light from the kitchen window. “The light was left on all day. Maybe the lightbulb just burnt out while I was down there. That’s not scary. Then the weird fall on the stairs, that was likely just clumsiness while trying to climb such a narrow staircase, in the dark, running like I was being chased by something. Nothing tried to trip me, no one is down there. Nothing but dust, old memories, and those weird dolls.”
Juliet took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves and breathing.
“Okay, I need to chill out and go to bed.”
She stepped away from the door, releasing it from her weight. She slowly turned and looked at it from a few feet away, contemplating the door knob. She reached up and pushed hard on the door, but it didn’t budge. Satisfied that it was fully closed, Juliet turned to walk towards the living room to grab her cell phone from the coffee table where she left it. As she passed by the kitchen table, she paused, looking down at the chair that her laptop usually rested on.
“You know what? Just in case.”
Pulling the chair away from the table, the squeal of the chair against the linoleum floor filling the silence of the still dark kitchen, Juliet pushed the chair under the door knob.
“There, I feel better already.”
She turned and walked to the living room, grabbing her phone and double checking that the deadbolt on the front door was still locked. She peered outside the window briefly, looking up and down the street, but everything was quiet outside. It was always so quiet. Juliet sighed, leaving the door to walk back through the kitchen to her bedroom, deciding against the bubble bath. With her phone lighting her way, Juliet walked by the basement door, making sure the chair was sturdy under the doorknob, and then got ready for bed and crawled into the cool sheets on her bed. Even with the nap earlier in the day, she fell asleep easily, her mind drifting off thinking about her grandmother as a child with her sister, Millie, in a floral dress with lace trim.
At some point in the middle of the night, Juliet woke with a start. She looked around the room, but it was still dark. The room was freezing and she was shivering curled up under the blankets. She had a feeling that something had woken her, a sound, but she couldn’t recall. She reached over to grab her phone from the nightstand, but it wasn’t there. Her fingers touched the cool, hard surface of the small nightstand. That’s when she heard the sound again. It was the sound of a chair in the kitchen, screeching in a jolt as it moved across the linoleum floor, as if it had been pushed violently. She bolted upright in the bed, the blankets falling to rest around her hips, the cold air biting at the skin of her arms.
“What the hell was that?” she whispered.
This time with both hands, she frantically searched the nightstand beside her, but her phone wasn’t there. She looked down at the floor, but it was as if she was looking into the ocean on a moonless night; it was black all around her bed. She tried to pull her feet out of the blankets, but they felt like they were wrapped tightly in the blankets and wouldn’t move. She tried to pull her ankles towards her, trying to raise her knees towards her chest, but they wouldn’t budge. Swinging her hips hard on the soft pillow top bed, she tried to wiggle her way out of the blankets, but she couldn’t seem to break free. Whatever was wrapped around her ankles was not letting go.
Her heart was beating hard in her chest and her breathing became ragged again as the realization came over her that she was being held in place, but by what, she didn’t know. She gripped onto the headboard behind her, trying to find some leverage, and pulled her body with all her strength. Then she realized that a tapping sound was coming from the kitchen. She sat still, listening, trying to make sense of the sound. It sounded like someone was tapping on the linoleum floor in the kitchen with a spoon. Only, it didn’t sound like a single spoon, it sounded like many spoons. And the sound was getting closer to the bedroom door.
Juliet felt her body freeze as she realized what the sound reminded her of. The dolls. It sounded like little porcelain feet running down the hallway. Her eyes grew wide as she tried to see past the doorway into the black hallway, but she couldn’t see anything. Still shivering, now from horror and no longer aware of the cold, the tapping sound stopped, as if right outside her bedroom door. She pulled the blanket up, covering her body up to her neck, as if hiding from whatever stood watching from the hallway could be tricked to go away. She stared at the black doorway, her breath shallow and fast, no longer trying to escape her bed, but instead hoping that it offered her some safety. Then slowly, as if emerging from water, a small white face came into view, its glass eyes shimmering against the pale moonlight coming in through the window behind Juliet.
She tried to recoil and cover her face, but she couldn’t move. Her body appeared to no longer under her control. She felt it slowly lay back onto the bed, her eyes closing against her will. Her mind raced, trying to figure out how her body was moving against her will and how she could escape whatever fate lay ahead of her. She heard the tapping coming closer again, slowly separating at the foot of the bed and coming up both sides of her body. Squeezing her face tight, trying to will her eyes open, Juliet sat in wait, unable to get away from the dolls that lined her bed. She felt a small hand touch her arm where it was draped near the edge of the bed. The hand was cold and hard, passing an electrical current through her body. Then all went silent.
Juliet woke when the bright sunrise broke through the bedroom window. The light hit her eyes, making her squint, but her eyelids felt stiff. She looked up at the window, wondering why it was in front of her instead of behind her on the bed. She thought back to the nightmare that she had the night before, shivering at the thought of the doll’s face emerging from the black doorway and the cold night air. She went to raise her hand to her face, but it was stiff and wouldn’t bend. She looked down at her arm, realizing that she was looking down at a porcelain arm in a white blouse, similar to the one she had been wearing the day before. She couldn’t understand where the doll’s hand came from, so she looked back towards the window, realizing that she was sitting on the chair near the bedroom door, facing the bed.
Her eyes drifted to the bed as she wondered how she got into the chair. Long brown hair lay across her white pillow and a hand was sticking out the side of the bed, the fingers in a tense, claw-life position. She started to panic, realizing that she wasn’t alone in the house, but she couldn’t move. Then she saw the woman’s face that was laying in the bed. It was her face, her body lay in the bed in front of her. She tried to shift her eyes down to look at herself, which is when she saw the two porcelain legs sticking out of a green skirt with beige ballet slippers on their feet.
Now in a full panic, Juliet tried to scream, but her lips wouldn’t move and sound wouldn’t come out. She looked around the room, hoping to find some explanation for what had happened to her, hoping that she was still in the dream. Then she saw a flash of black in the corner of her eye. At the side of the bed, near the night stand, her phone lay on the floor by the feet of a doll. The doll was standing, it had a black dress with blonde curly hair and a small black hat with lace covering its eyes. Juliet had never seen the doll before, but now it was standing on the floor, facing her, smiling.