01 Feb I Found a Doll In The Woods. I Wish I Hadn’t.
It had been close to the bent old elm tree where I’d noticed the tiny white hand poking up from the ground.
A series of robberies that had occurred around our area had put on us on edge. When I’d heard scuffling sounds from the surrounding woods around our house early that morning, my shotgun had been quickly loaded and placed in hand. The tips of the leaves had already begun to darken and shrivel on the bright green trees, with some even having drifted to the ground on the gentle morning breeze. Rocky had led the way, his tail wagging high in the air and nose trailing along the ground, just as eager to protect our home as I was.
He alerted me with a bark, having picked up on something’s scent. My eyes had drifted along the ground, before catching sight of the unfamiliar object amongst the long, swaying grasses. I had squinted for a few minutes, before making out a human shape.
My heart all but exploded within my chest. The shotgun had dropped to the ground as I rushed forward to dig the small shape out of the twigs it had been buried in.
I found myself clutching the rigid wrist of a small doll.
Two glassy brown orbs stared out at me from a pale porcelain face, framed by long, curling eyelashes. Her long strawberry blonde hair had been done up into elaborate ringlets that trailed over the puffed sleeves of the pink Victorian- style dress she was wearing. Her rosy lips were curled into an enigmatic smile, as if she knew something no-one else did. Despite a few specks of dirt on her skirt and some twigs clinging to her shiny hair, she was in near perfect condition.
She should have been sitting on the shelf of some antique shop between a Ming vase and some dusty, leather-bound books. I couldn’t imagine who would dump it here. I had been a typical little girl, my childhood had been long consumed by a love for dolls- Barbies, Bratz, American Girl and Polly Pockets had populated my room, covering the surface of every ledge and dresser. The best days of my life had been when my grandmother had let me play with some of her older ones when I’d gone up to her house. I would spend hours dazzled by their perfect, fragile faces and long trailing gowns. The one that I’d found here would have fitted in perfectly within her collection.
As my finger traced the smooth outline of her rosy cheek, warm memories flooded back of those sweet, simpler times where the biggest worry I’d had was accidentally breaking one of them. I felt the same childhood urge resurface- to take the lonely little doll home to live with me.
However, my girlfriend, Enid, was less than pleased by it.
“Burn it,” was the first thing she’d uttered when she saw it propped up on our mantelpiece.
I’d only rolled my eyes at her words.
“It’s a doll, honey- not a monster.”
“It looks like it should be locked away inside a glass case,” she scoffed, “the kind that says; ‘Do Not Open Under Any Circumstances’.”
“This isn’t a horror movie. This is real life.”
“Well, that thing looks like it crawled right out of the former.”
She turned away from it with a barely suppressed shudder of disgust.
“I’m getting the matches.” She murmured.
“You do that, and I’m getting a divorce.” I shot back.
She paused as she had been exiting the doorway, looking back over her shoulder at me with a deadpan expression, one eyebrow quirked upwards.
“Please, you know you could never leave me. I’m the one thing keeping you from killing yourself. If I wasn’t here, you’d probably be inviting a hockey-mask wearing stranger with a machete over for dinner right now.”
I shook my head with a laugh. As caustic as Enid could be, I could never stop loving her, even for a second. She was my best friend.
She was always the smart one- I know that now.
Still, looking at the doll, I couldn’t understand what had unnerved her so much. I only felt a surge of maternal protection towards its small, delicate features.
Being a huge child at heart (or just an over-sentimental idiot), I decided to give her a name, after my favourite doll as a child- Samantha.
I was probably the only one in the house who took to her. Rocky, who would normally lap up and lick the face of anyone with a pulse would cower outside the door of the room where Samantha was, and no amount of coaxing would get him to enter. Even Kiwi, our parakeet, who would chirp the ear off anyone, stood silent in his cage whenever the doll was present. Enid still refused to go anywhere near her. I couldn’t understand why either of them were so apprehensive. All those horror stories about dolls had seemed so laughable to me when my own own had given me nothing but joy. To me, there was nothing wrong with her. Samantha was a doll, and nothing more.
It was almost a week after I had found Samantha under the tree when Enid had shaken me out of a restful nights’ sleep.
“I heard something downstairs,” she hissed, her eyes flashing with panic.
We sat there, listening out for anything, with only the hushed sound of our breathing breaking the quiet.
Then we heard it- a loud, distinct bump from downstairs, like something falling over.
Thoughts of intruders in ski masks after our valuables resurfaced in my mind. I pushed open the bedroom door and was already down the stairs, making a beeline for the gun cabinet when I heard the sound again- from the living room. I saw something small on the ground.
After taking a few hesitant steps towards it, it suddenly became familiar, long reddish-blonde curls falling over its face.
Samantha. She must had fallen off the mantel in the night. I brushed a stray curl out of her flawless face, her eyes sparkling up at me.
Kiki quivered in the corner of his cage; blue-grey feathers flared as he watched me put her back. He hopped back as far as he could on his swinging bird ledge and let out a low squawk.
“It’s okay, Kiki- Samantha’s only a doll. She won’t hurt you.”
It felt like everyone around me was going insane. Samantha was an object- there was no way she could hurt anyone.
So why were they all so afraid?
One morning, I had woken up to the sight of Rocky’s limp body strewn across the bedroom landing. When I had turned him over, I saw the white frothing from his mouth.
We’d broken more than a few speed limits on our way to get him to the vet, but by the time we’d arrived, it was already too late.
The vet had sighed, his face solemn- we had taken Rocky for check-ups since he was a puppy, so he understood our grief. He had been just as confused as we were. The only rational explanation that he could scrape together was a black widow bite.
That night, Enid and I sat together and cried in a way we hadn’t done in a long time. We hadn’t just lost a pet- we had lost a best friend. We buried him in the back yard, where we could always see him frolicking from the kitchen windows. It just didn’t make sense. In all the time we had lived in this area, there had been no black widow spiders. But Rocky was dead.
It didn’t stop me from calling an exterminator the day after we’d buried him. Between Rocky and the scratching that I was starting to hear downstairs, I knew that I had a valid enough reason.
After practically prying our house apart and searching every crack and crevice, the exterminator had shaken his head.
“I can’t find any harbourages,” he admitted, “there doesn’t seem to be any spiders. You’re definitely sure that it was a black widow bite?“
“There has to be,” I protested.
“Nothing.” He admitted, ” the whole place is practically airtight.”
Kiki wasn’t doing any better than we were. He refused to eat, instead cowering in the corner of his cage. He didn’t chirp or talk anymore instead switching between silence and screaming. The sandpaper floor of his bird cage was littered with his own bloodied feathers that he’d pecked out, his body dotted with painful pink patches. He and Rocky had always been close, to the point of even sitting on his back. I thought that it was his own way of grieving.
With the pain of losing Rocky still raw in my heart, I had turned to Samantha for comfort. I had found my fingers threading through her soft hair and stroking her cold, stiff skin. Whenever I looked at that tiny upturned mouth, everything was alright again.
I was probably the only one who could stand being around her.
“Fuck, can you just put that thing up in the attic? It creeps me the hell out.” Enid snapped.
I could already feel her disgusted sneer burning through my back towards Samantha. I placed down the rag I’d been using to polish her face and turned back to her.
“Oh, yeah. She’s just sitting there and looking adorable- that’s really unsettling.”
Unlike the other times we’d had this conversation, the scowl that Enid was wearing didn’t slide from her face.
“I’m serious. I fucking hate looking at it. I can feel its eyes follow me around the room. I don’t know what dimension would consider that thing adorable-“
“Give it a rest, will you? She’s just a doll.”
I didn’t mean to say it as harshly as I did, but the damage had already been done. Enid’s upper lip curled into a grimace and she exited the room with a dismissive wave of her hand.
But she was already gone.
Enid was hurting too- she needed time to heal from what had happened. I knew it was Samantha was driving a rift between us- and as much as I adored her, I wasn’t about to put a doll over the woman I loved. I started to weigh up my options- eBay was a good place. Though she wasn’t exactly pristine, I knew that I could get some good money for Samantha.
That night was spent just as sleepless as the last, eyes darting around the room to the Enid’s sleeping back lying next to me. My skin stiffened from the cold atmosphere between us, wondering when it would thaw out.
I had leaned back into my pillow, my eyes about to close, trying to finally rest when I heard the same clatter and scratches. It was white noise to me by this stage and I had been about to drift off when a sound pealed up that seemed to echo into my very bones.
A little girl giggling.
I was out of that room like a bullet. Every creak of the staircase made me flinch, but I forced myself downstairs, determined to prove to myself that it was just my own sleep-deprived imagination. There was no way that I could have heard it.
My phone in hand, I guided myself to the hallway light switch. My chest sagged as light burst in, revealing everything where it should have been. It seemed that Enid and I were the only two people in the house.
With my own curiosity, satisfied I was about to head back upstairs to the comfort of a warm bed when something small scuttled past my feet into the darkness of the living room, so fast that it was just an indistinct blur of limbs.
I stood there, my ears picking up on the slightest movement of whatever was moving in there.
After palming around the walls for the distinct outline of the light switch, I resorted back to the light of my phone. As it fell on Kiki’s cage, I noticed that the doors were open- or rather crumpled open, having been torn off by something.
Kiki was nowhere in sight.
Shining around, something silvery flashed into my view- it was suspended from every surface of the room, trailing from the top of mantelpiece to the walls in long gossamer-like threads. A wriggling movement distracted my attention away from it and the torch of my phone revealed a trembling Kiki suspended in a cocoon. My knee joints locked in place, mouth falling open.
Something dropped down from the ceiling, hanging from a thread like some demented marionette. Her tiny arms were open towards me and head dropped, long reddish-blonde hair falling as a veil over her face.
I knew what- or rather who it was, but still couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Samantha’s neck creaked up; brown eyes fixed on me. I could only watch as eight long black legs unfurled themselves from the tear in the front of her dress. They extended at least two feet outward, longer than the rest of her body. Her flawless porcelain features cracked open into a jagged chelicerae, vibrating with a low hiss and already dripping with venom.
The intruding voice terrified me more than what was in front of me. Whipping around, I saw Enid standing in front of me, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes as she squinted into the darkness. Her eyes expanded as she made out what was inside, the colour draining from her face. Her mouth fell open as she stood there, paralyzed by fear.
“What the fu-“
Before she could even finish, Samantha had plummeted to the ground, scuttling on her belly with lightning speed before lunging at her. Within seconds, she had Enid pinned to the floor, who was screaming and struggling to hold back her snapping jaws.
A sudden fear-fuelled adrenaline burst snapped me out of my shock. I raced to the gun cabinet, struggling to load the bullets in as her screams echoed from just a few rooms away. When I finally fitted them to the chamber, I rushed back to find Samantha inches away from sinking her razor teeth into Enid’s skin. I aimed the barrel towards the tiny head with my trembling hands.
As my finger enclosed around the trigger, a brief image of Rocky flashed through my mind.
The force of the shot blew the creature almost three feet into the air, before landing at the entrance of the living room. Running to my girlfriend, I scooped up her trembling body into my arms.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s gone. Breathe, baby, breathe-“
I held her at that moment like I would never let her go. She suddenly went stiff in my hands and my heart dropped.
Her head was tilted towards the living room doorway, a hand clasped to her whimpering mouth. Looking up, I caught the sight of the small shape slowly rising from the floor.
Samantha stared at us with a single, cold dead eye, the right side of her face almost entirely blown off, leaving it a warped crescent. Before either of us knew it, she was already running at us.
I shuttered my eyes, holding Enid close, preparing for the inevitable, that horrible laughing all around us.
I opened them to find us both still alive, with the click of her contorted limbs disappearing into the next room. The confusion of it all gave way to pure fear when the truth dawned on me.
The dog door.
Pushing myself to my feet, I raced after the sound. I the miniature outline of her form next to the flap, held aloft by her arachnid limbs. Her head snapped around at me, still wearing that sweet smile, one that now made my stomach churn.
Then, with one final titter, she pushed herself through before I could catch her. I found myself sprawled on the floor, clutching at nothing, the abrasive chill of the night air slapping against my face with each swing of the aluminium flap, with Samantha having long disappeared into the shadowy coverage of the trees.
After we’d peeled back the webbing, we found Kiki, somehow still alive. But he refused to leave the safety of his cage for any reason. He was so quiet that we would have to check on him from time to time, to make sure he wasn’t dead. Enid and I tried to continue with our normal routine. Neither of us knew how to address what had happened in the first few days after the ‘incident’.
My mind often wanders back to that night where she slipped though my fingers. I still don’t know what it was that I found in those woods and let loose on the world, but I don’t think that I want to find out.
The gun is never far from my reach now.
Enid’s recovering too. We’ve been learning to talk about it and her nightmares are becoming less frequent. Still, it doesn’t stop her from flinching every time she sees a doll in a movie or TV. She can’t even say the word without a tremble slipping in.
She has a reason to be afraid of them now.
I do too.