This story is by Delaney Conroy and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It was there when I moved in.
A porcelain doll that looked concerningly like my ex about thirty centimeters tall sat on my counter between the still packed pile of boxes. It looked just like him, from his messy brown hair, to that old, blue hoodie he always wore.
Looking at it reminded me of our breakup. We had an argument over something stupid that blew up into an actual fight that ended in him breaking up with me. The doll sat there mockingly, like it knew what happened.
The worst part of the whole mess was that no matter where I put it, it always made its way back into the house and sat itself on my counter amidst the clutter where I found it. No matter how far I took it. I tried to ditch it in the dumpster at work, but the creepy thing always made it home.
I’d unlock the door, and it’d be waiting for me on my counter like it was never moved.
It had to be a joke from my friends. An inappropriate, and probably very expensive one at that, but a joke nonetheless. They’ve been known to push the boundaries sometimes, but this was a little far even by their standards.
But they denied it entirely. The doll even made itself scarce when I tried to prove its existence. I tried to take pictures of it, but somehow the lighting was always too bad to get a good look at it. No matter where I took it, it was always too dark that you couldn’t see it, even if I shined my flashlight on it or took it out in the sun. It was like some kinda darkness followed it, even if I could see it clearly.
I spent a month trying to find out where that damned thing came from and there wasn’t the slightest hint as to who was doing this. The thought of just selling it crossed my mind, but it was quickly replaced by thoughts of jeers from the jerk on how good they got me and how scared I was. If I didn’t figure it out, they would win.
At this point I would rather die than let that happen.
Once this was solved, I could sell it. Whoever blew all their money on this sick joke wasn’t going to get a cent back. They spent their money on getting me to run around like a chicken with my head cut off when I was supposed to be unpacking and actually moving into my new house.
A thought nagged at the back of my head.
It had started off as a joke, but it was starting to grow into something more serious. What if it wasn’t someone?
It was an absolutely crazy idea. Ghosts and demons weren’t real. They only existed in movies. Even if they were real, it wasn’t like I had done something to anger one. I didn’t dabble in the occult. Not that I believed any of that worked, but I wasn’t about to risk it. On the off chance I was wrong, I didn’t want to anger something that would hunt me down and reduce me to a pile of mangled viscera. I’d seen enough horror movies to know you don’t do stuff like that if you want to live.
This was all in my head.
It was the only way that any of this made sense. It’d only be a matter of time before the culprit would show up and laugh about how frazzled I’d become. They’d have their fun, and I’d have my peace of mind.
Maybe if I just unpacked and acted like it wasn’t bothering me, the joke would stop being funny and they’d come forward.
It was either that, or let the madness consume me and let the rest of the friend group sort it out, but the first one felt more satisfying. It was a stupid thing to want, but I like to win. Especially when someone was going to launch themselves so far over the line.
That and I couldn’t keep living out of boxes. As nice as that old concert shirt was, I’d kinda like to have more variety in my pajamas.
I took some of the stuff meant for my bedroom, and started to unpack. My back was to the doll and there was no one else in my house, but I could feel eyes on me.
It made my blood run cold.
That feeling was just my nerves. Dolls can’t look at you. They aren’t alive. They lacked the sentience to look.
A loud thud echoed through the still air as my heart jumped into my throat. I held my breath and stayed as still as I could, hoping that whatever was behind me wouldn’t notice me and move on. Maybe to another house where a priest who knew how to kill a ghost and/or demon lived.
The silence stretched on, tightening its vice grip on my heart.
I had to look.
I couldn’t stop myself.
I let out a breath I didn’t know I was still holding when I saw the tipped over boxes. I must’ve bumped it when I grabbed the boxes next to it.
It was just clothes, and it had to be from the one box I didn’t close properly. This is what I got for freaking out over nothing. This whole mess was getting worse to me than I thought. I just need to focus and get through the unpacking as fast as possible, and there wouldn’t be any issue.
I was tossing them back into the box to carry into my room, when I started to notice something.
These weren’t my clothes.
There had to have been a box left over in the moving van I rented. Moving is such a nightmare that I must not have noticed and taken it with me.
And then I saw it.
That old blue hoodie he always wore.
With blood stained around the neck.
Before I had time to scream, I felt a small, cold, hand on my arm.
Fear tightly gripped my heart, and I looked over to it. There was the doll, moved from its spot on my counter to next to me.
Standing completely unassisted, and looking at me with its blank expression and dead eyes.
It’s hand on my arm.
Taking full advantage of the fact that I was frozen with fear, it dragged its hand across my arm, leaving cuts that blood was already starting to ooze out of, until its hand was back at its side.
Its expression remained completely dead and indifferent.
That was enough to get my body to respond again.
I screamed and ran back to my bedroom, grabbing my phone, and wedging myself into the farthest corner of my closet to send frantic texts to the group chat.
This wasn’t funny anymore.
Whoever was doing this needed to stop.
This has gone too far.
Over my frantic typing, I heard the soft sound of porcelain tapping on hardwood.
If this was the game that we were playing, I was going to call the cops. No warning for the intruder, because they had had so much time to give up this stupid game. This would be a matter for the police and the jerk responsible was going to do time, and honestly, I didn’t care how long it was going to be, so long as it ended up on their record.
And then the closet door opened.
It was there when I walked through the door.
In the time it had taken for me to get the boxes from the car, a porcelain doll, about thirty centimeters tall, had appeared on my couch.
No note. No explanation.
Just a doll, sitting there like it paid rent.
The grossest part was, it looked just like my friend who recently died. It was even wearing the same old concert shirt she was wearing the night they found her crammed in the closet with her throat clawed out.
What a sick prank.