We stopped being friends that autumn, him and I. I remember going to his house multiple times throughout the week. His mother would make us cookies. For a lady so sweet, she always had a vacant look in her eyes. As if she looked right through us at something that only she could see. She hardly ever talked but she would always see to it that we played outside in their large garden. Never inside.
“It’s so cramped inside” she would say. “Kids like you should go outside and explore.”
Or whatever alternatives she had for that.
But as October approached and the air grew colder, it became harder and harder for us to enjoy the garden outside in the evening and hence my visits were cut short. Only I was 12 and absolutely determined.
As it happened, my brother graduated from university that year and decided to visit us for autumn before going off to work in another state. Even with a considerable age gap, we were thick as thieves. He never really treated me like the child I was; always as a partner in crime. I wanted to spend as much of my time with him as possible and so it was decided, my friend would now frequent my house. The afternoons were spent outside, playing in piles of leaves and the evenings inside with my brother entertaining us by telling stories from his time at the university. He made it sound so exciting.
My friend’s house was a mystery in itself. Despite having visited it countless times, I never quite saw it in its entirety. We were always limited to the living room and the kitchen. Come to think of it, I never met any of his family apart from his mother, who, if you ask me, was quite the eccentric lady herself. I knew of his family of course, but I never knew them. I was told that his father was a very busy person who had a business overseas. Perhaps the most mysterious of them all was his little sister.
She had been painted as this sickly little thing with a plethora of birth defects; too delicate to get out of bed or play with us. She was her “little doll”. The only time her vacant eyes carried a spark of life was when she talked about her daughter. He had admitted to me that he was only ever allowed to talk to his sister with a net separating them. She would giggle and that’s all the conversation they ever had. Only…
Only there was nothing in the house that suggested the presence of a sick child, let alone a healthy one. No baby clothes or socks lying around.
October came to an end and with it came Halloween. One night a year where I was allowed to stay outside past my curfew as long as I didn’t venture out too far. Curiosity had gripped both of our minds in a vice, so it took little coaxing on my part to get him to agree to my plan.
Silent as a cat, we snuck in through the front door. He wasn’t ever allowed upstairs, so his sister could be left in peace. His mother would make empty promises that she would let them play once she turned a certain age and then some emergency would strike, pushing it back for the 10th time. I doubt even he saw her.
The upstairs area was very silent. Some stairs creaked, some didn’t. In front of me, I counted 3 doors, all from the same dark wood, right there in a single line just like in a dollhouse. Dust, along with heavy, uncomfortable silence, coated every surface of the dark and empty corridor.
Tiptoeing further, we tried opening a door, which, after a little bit of strength on both of our parts, opened to nothing but a large room full of dusty stored items. A large old crib, broken pieces of furniture, some old mattresses. Just a plain storage closet then.
As hard as we tried, the second door never opened. We figured it must be locked and decided to just give up on it.
Eventually we stepped in front of the third door, and it was as if a shadow darker than the rest of them had settled over us. My body refused to co-operate, my feet wouldn’t move forward. I should have taken the hint. I should have left. He seemed to fare no different than me. His face had gone bone pale. Dragging myself forward I put a hand on the doorknob.
The doorknob was cold and hard. Sweat beads ran down my back as I turned it slowly. Creaking and protesting the third door opened ever so slightly. Inside sat his mother on a rocking chair, holding a girl to her chest and singing a soft lullaby. I let out a soft gasp.
It was an odd sort of thing, that scene. She was so deep in her thoughts that she never heard us approach, never batted an eye, and never stopped singing her haunting lullaby when both of us froze in our tracks.
In her arms lay a doll. A doll with a porcelain white face and blonde hair and big blue eyes like that of my friend’s. In her arms lay a doll that was motionless and yet somehow not lifeless. In her arms lay a horror that never once moved or blinked its eyes but somehow still looked at us as we entered.
As if in a trance we both stood there, frozen, unable to move. It grinned at us with unnervingly real teeth. All the blonde hair that should have been nothing but strands of plastic and yet they looked soft as silk, brushed thoroughly.
His mother sat there, on the chair, rocking slowly, caressing the doll’s hair with one hand, drawing circles on her back with the other. What could I have done in this situation? Something? Nothing? Run away and pretend I never saw anything? Pretend that it never looked at me without ever actually looking my way? Pretend that I didn’t feel the oily feeling of that gaze?
I stood there, waiting, holding my breath, for what felt like an eternity.
Something must have clicked in place because quick as lightning my friend lunged at his mother. I don’t know where he got the courage from. To tear that thing off her. To even touch it with his hands.
His mother stopped altogether and turned.
She looked so frantic, so feral. Teeth bared, wild hair, even wilder eyes. It was as if she didn’t even recognize her son anymore. The son who was there in front of her, alive and breathing.
He tried reasoning, tried telling her the truth. But anyone would have known, she was beyond reasoning. Nothing would have worked.
The room felt so cramped, so small, so stuffy. There was no way out. With that doll in my friend’s hand and his mother staring at him like a murderous beast, I had nowhere to go. The window was way too high for me to jump outside.
From next to me I heard a scraping voice and saw her holding a giant curtain rod. She looked ready to cleave us both in half.
“My daughter, my baby” she kept chanting over and over again, as he kept backing up against the wall. I could see him looking at me with pleading eyes, begging me to help. Do something.
I couldn’t think.
Jumping from the window seemed like a much better option then.
There was no other choice left. Against my better judgement, I snatched the doll from him.
As soon as it touched me I regretted it. Its body so heavy, no mere toy would ever feel like this. And that waxy feel of the skin, the open, ever-staring blue eyes. It didn’t help that his mother’s stare was now upon me. Who was I to be spared when she didn’t want to let her own son live?
With a scream full of rage she charged towards me, rod in hand. There was no way I would survive this.
But that window, that open window, my only solution. And so I ran towards it, with all my might and all my speed, dodging a near-fatal blow of that rod and threw that monstrosity out of it. It plummeted somewhere in the darkness.
For a moment everything was so still. She looked stricken. And then she charged again. This time at the window and jumped after the doll, falling like a shooting star.
For days, months, years, we were not told of the events that took place that night. I just knew that my brother had heard all the noise, saw her falling out of the window and called the police.
I found out only last year. She had a stillborn baby, his mother. She always wanted a little girl. She couldn’t bear the thought of it. So she kept that little corpse. Turned it into a doll even, so that it wouldn’t rot. She kept it for years, and nobody knew. Her husband had already left her a long time ago. He couldn’t deal with all the craziness. He already had a new family and couldn’t care less about his old one.
I couldn’t believe how my friend had lived in that house for so many years, without ever knowing the truth. He told me she would giggle at it. He told me, I remember it clearly.
She died that night, broke her neck on impact. The police recovered the doll but there was nothing left to investigate so they buried it with her.
I know my friend hated being sent to foster care and yet there was nothing I could do about it. I don’t know what happened to him later. He must be 20 now too, out of the system, hopefully with a good life.
We stopped being friends that autumn, him and I. But his sister still visits me, still blames me for breaking apart her family.