When Courtney opened Great Aunt Crystal’s Christmas present, she was confused. Inside the box was a porcelain doll with straight black hair, eerily white and cold skin, and an ugly old-fashioned dress with massive, cracked buttons. Courtney was twenty-seven and had never shown any interest in toy collecting. Sure, Great Aunt Crystal’s mind was probably not in the best condition, but anyone would know this choice of gift made absolutely no sense. The doll itself seemed be aware of this too, as it’s large and lifeless glass eyes stared vacantly at the ceiling in such a manner that made its face look like it was eternally contorted in disappointment. Still, despite this, Courtney thanked Great Aunt Crystal and named the doll Mary through gritted teeth. When her relative had departed after some pushing, Courtney immediately shoved the unsettling toy into the back of her bedroom closet and forgot all about Mary before writing a thank-you letter to Aunt Crystal, who, even in her forgetful state, was likely confused to find a note from her grandniece thanking her for an unnamed gift that sounded more like it was a sweater from its vague description. The next morning, however, Courtney’s memory was instantly refreshed by seeing Mary stood in front of the closed closet door. Courtney was stunned.
“How did you get here?” She demanded, as if she were interrogating a criminal. Courtney continued this subconscious act by glaring at the inanimate doll, which somehow looked even more disappointed than it had the day before. After some time, Courtney realized she had been staring for quite a while and checked her watch to find that she was running late for work. A haunted doll is chilling, sure, but the wrath of Courtney’s boss was downright petrifying. The woman was out the door in under ten minutes, sacrificing breakfast for punctuality, a decision that would later drastically decrease the quality of her day. Consequently, when Courtney came home that evening, she was, hungry, tired, and not at all in the mood to find an unfamiliar teacup filled with a strange dark red liquid at her feet as she walked through the doorway. As she stared at the cup in a state of utter bewilderment, it tipped itself over before her very eyes. The fluid poured out and began to move irregularly, eventually shifting itself to spell out: “PLAY WITH ME.”
Instead, Courtney used her phone to take a video of the cup, then dug through her cabinet’s contents (which were also covered in the peculiar liquid, but Courtney paid this no mind as she couldn’t tell if her sink had started leaking or if it was a cause for concern) to find her floor cleaner. She then spent the next hour and a half scrubbing and removing the mess so that it wouldn’t permanently stain the floorboards. When she’d finally finished rescuing her hardwood floor, she got into her car and drove to the police station, considering her video to be more than enough evidence.
A few hours later, Courtney was settling into a hotel room for the night as the cops searched her house. She vaguely knew she was lucky to be taken seriously, but she was still quite displeased about having to book an overpriced hotel stay at the last minute. Courtney tried not to think about this fact too much as she tucked herself into the firm and strange-smelling bed. It took her a long while to fall asleep, but she eventually did.
As soon as Courtney opened her eyes the next morning, she searched her email for information on the police search. She was happy to find such an email, but her contentment quickly faded when she read it. An officer had died in a mysterious accident during the investigation.
“Well that’s just excellent.” Courtney grumpily thought to herself.
“Now I’ll have to disclose that if I ever try to sell the house. My property value’s ruined!”
Though this potential loss of profit was a travesty, Courtney could do nothing about it, and she decided to head to the bathroom to get ready for her day. She turned on the light and did a double take.
On the counter Mary stood upright with her box next to her. The mirror behind her had a message scrawled on it in some type of red liquid.
“LOVE ME” it read.
The toy stood on its own, leaned against nothing, with red splotches on her dress and small hands, which were clenched despite Courtney being certain that the doll had always been open palmed. Courtney was bewildered and quite concerned. Clearly this toy did a lot more than exist creepily.
Hoping to find valuable information, Courtney picked up the box and began to read it. Upon doing so, she saw that the doll was purchased from a store called Toy “Maker” and Beings. This name was honestly rather stupid and was probably terrible for business, so Courtney felt strangely self-conscious as she booted up her laptop and typed the name into her preferred search engine.
Though it took a bit of digging (mainly through mysterious and horrendously misspelled forum posts written by either people warning that the store had harmed their children or so-called psychics speaking about the store’s “dark energy” in the vaguest possible terms), Courtney eventually found the shop’s location, so she put the doll in its box and put “The part of Secondary Street that exists between our mortal world and the spirit realm and is consequently veiled by supernatural mist,” into her car’s GPS fully expecting to have to change it to just “Secondary street,” but to her shock, she was actually given a tangible location, along with a pop-up notification asking “Are you sure that you’re stupid enough to visit this location?”
With a grimace, Courtney selected the “yes” option and began her journey. The drive was about 30 minutes, but to Courtney it felt about three times as long. When she arrived at Secondary street, Courtney parked her car in between a restaurant and a clothing boutique, just as the GPS had recommended. She stepped out, grabbed Mary and her box with a shudder and began her search for the place from whence this despicable doll came. She entered both establishments and investigated every bathroom stall, peeked behind the mirrors of every changing room, and checked every menu description and price tag for any sort of secret code. Despite her vigilance, Courtney found nothing of use, and she walked out quite discouraged. As she began to contemplate her next option, she noticed an alleyway in between the two buildings. As she had no other options, she braved the dark alleyway and hoped she didn’t get mugged.
Though it was indeed very poorly lit, it wasn’t actually too difficult to navigate on account of it simply being a straight path, with a surprising lack of unevenness or debris. However, when one is carrying a creepy and potentially murderous doll while trying to find an allegedly dangerous toy shop to dispose of her, even something as (relatively) benign as the previously described situation is exceedingly worrisome. Luckily for Courtney, something in the distance began to illuminate her path. It was a white ethereal mist that had a strange pale blue glow. Courtney hoped for the best as she approached the mist and stepped into it. She was immediately set on edge by the fact the mist felt unnervingly cold on her skin.
When Courtney had finally walked through the peculiar fog, she found herself face-to-face with a brick building with rotting wood accents. It had a large sign above the doorway: Toy “Maker” and Beings, which Courtney could only read because of a large, flickering, out-of-place streetlight that was made large enough to loom above the building and bathe it in sickly green light.
Courtney cautiously opened the front door, which creaked immensely and moved quite slowly. Perhaps this was for the best, as Courtney definitely wasn’t ready when she saw the store’s interior.
As it turned out, it might have been a bit misleading to call the shop a “toy store,” as that implies a large variety in the playthings that can be bought. In this establishment, however, the only things for sale were porcelain dolls, which were packed together on the numerous shelves. No individual doll looked exactly the same, but they all seemed to glare at Courtney through their boxes. Courtney looked in the direction of the cash register, hoping to shake the feeling of being watched, only to find the clerk, the sole employee who looked to be a young woman of about sixteen, was staring at her with a vacant smile as if she was a doll herself. Courtney approached the register and was greeted by the worker.
“Hi there. My name is Vanessa. How may I help you?” She asked as if simultaneously holding back sorrowful tears and hysterical laughter.
“I’ve been better, honestly. I’m here to make a return.” Courtney replied as she held up the box with Mary inside.
“Oh, I’m sorry. We don’t do returns. Our dolls really form a special bond with their people. Once they’ve found their friend, they’ll be together forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever…” After about forty-five minutes of hearing nothing but “and ever,” Courtney decided that no useful information could be gleaned from this encounter, and she simply said, “This is a terrible model of customer service,” before setting the doll on the counter anyway and walking out the door with Vanessa still repeating that phrase,
As Courtney briskly walked out of the building, she felt a familiar weight in her hand. It was somehow Mary and her box. In a panic, Courtney began to mentally list her options. She couldn’t just drop the doll. Could she destroy it with a hammer or burn it? No, that was a terrible idea. Mary had probably killed that officer; provoking her in such a manner was likely to end in disaster. Great Aunt Crystal had gifted the doll to Courtney, so could Courtney just give Mary to someone and be rid of her? Would she able to live with herself if it actually worked? Would she able to live at all if it didn’t?
Courtney was so wrapped up in her own mind that she didn’t notice two people who hadn’t been there before she had entered the alleyway. These two people looked like they were in their early twenties and appeared to be twin siblings. One of them, a man, was holding a magnifying glass up to a twig he had snapped off from a tree while his sister was busily drawing in a sketchbook, occasionally taking a few moments to look down at the magnified twig. At one point, the sister saw Courtney out of the corner of her eye and turned to look at her. Then, she tapped her brother on the shoulder.
“Hey, look at that woman. See the box she’s holding? It says Toy “Maker” and Beings, just like that urban legend I was telling you about.”
At the mention of the store, Courtney pulled out her phone and started pretending to be on it in order to eavesdrop on their conversation. Meanwhile, the brother was thinking hard, clearly not remembering what his sister had told him.
“You know, the one where someone buys a doll that’s haunted and go insane trying to get rid of it only to realize far too late that they only had to read some really small instructions on the box the doll came in?” The woman said casually.
“Oh. Yeah, that one. Now I remember.” The brother replied.
At this Courtney had an idea, she walked over to the pair and asked, “Excuse me, may I please borrow your magnifying glass?”
Fortunately, the siblings were indeed willing to let her use it. Courtney took the magnifying glass and held it above the box as she began to read. Finally, on the back it read in print so small that she could barely make it out even with the magnifying glass, “If you wish to be free from this doll, ask it nicely to leave you alone.” Courtney was stunned. Was it actually that simple? What if this was all some elaborate joke meant to give her false hope? It was still her best option, so she held up the box, looked Mary in her unnerving glass eyes, and said, “Can you please leave me alone?”
Suddenly, Mary’s started to blink as she heaved a massive sigh of relief.
“Finally!” the doll exclaimed.
Courtney panicked and dropped the box, which the doll used as an opportunity to exit the box and begin stomping down the street.
“I can’t believe I had to deal with all of that! Man was that Courtney lady stupid! Who in their right mind would spend that long staring a doll that is in a different place then where they left it? Also, who comes home to find a strange liquid that looks suspiciously like blood spilling from a teacup you’ve never seen before and decides to start cleaning the floor? She went to the police! Clearly she knew something was wrong, but she just decided to go to the police with, what, a picture? Doesn’t she know that stuff like that can be easily doctored? How materialistic does a person have to be to value their flooring over their safety? And Mary? She named me Mary. Seriously? Let me guess, I’m an antique female porcelain doll so I just have to be named Mary? Could she be any less original? To top it all off, She’s so stupid she couldn’t even figure out how to get rid of me on her own! She had to rely on random strangers who just happened to have what she needed, which means I couldn’t have provided enough of a ‘character arc,’ so now I’ll get my pay cut and won’t be able to afford therapy for witnessing that officer break his neck after he decided he felt like cartwheeling down a flight of stairs. ‘Become a haunted doll.’ They said. ‘It’s a great career. The pay is wonderful.’ They said. I did it. I became a haunted doll, and I hate it! I hope Mom is happy because I know I’m not.”
With that the doll had finished her rant and turned around the street corner. Courtney looked back at the siblings.
“Was that a public prank or something?” asked the brother
“No it wasn’t, sorry. If you’ll excuse me, I have a hotel room mirror I need to clean so I don’t get charged a fine for damaging hotel property.” Courtney answered as she rushed back to her car. The doll was right, she really hadn't undergone a character arc at all.
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This was definitely not what I expected. Overall a very nicely written story.