ghosts in the burbs

A blog about the people who live in Wellesley, MA and the ghosts (and monsters) who haunt them.

unnamed-4Cali Smith is an acquaintance of mine. We float through the same overlapping social circles and have shared belly laughs at random get togethers. She’s a fun person to hang out with, though I don’t think I’d want her in my inner circle. She’s got an excellent sense of humor and a true flair for gossip. She knows everyone in town, what they were like back when she had kids in the same playgroup with them, where they work out, how much their house cost, and exactly why they are full of shit. She’s also a creative and unapologetic swearer, which I adore.

Cali and her husband Dex have three kids, Jonathan (“He’s a junior this year and if that boy spent as much time studying as he does amusing himself in the bathroom he’d probably score himself a free ride”), Caitlin (“She’s my easy one. Doesn’t appear to have an eating disorder or an abusive boyfriend as far as I can tell, but she’s only fifteen”), and Daisy (“She wasn’t an ‘oops’ baby she was an What in the fuck have we done? baby”). They live in a sprawling home on Cliff Road. When Cali invited me to her house for a glass of wine (“Uber over, don’t drive. We’re gonna need to hit the bottle hard for this,”) I wasn’t expecting to get dropped off at a mansion. Not a McMansion mind you, an honest to God mansion complete with a pool, tennis courts, and a guest house that was only a smidge tinier than my own home.

“Does anyone live back there?” I asked, pointing out past the floor to ceiling windows overlooking Cali’s back yard. It was late evening and the grounds were lit beautifully with landscape lighting and twinkle lights strung above the multi-level patio.

“Oh no, we just needed someplace to put the in-laws when they come like, twice a year. Heaven forbid they stay in a hotel,” Cali replied handing me a generously poured glass of Chardonnay. “Let’s sit in the library. You’ll get a kick out of it.”

I followed my hostess as we crossed the massive living room and down a long hallway past several doorways. I glanced quickly into each of the tastefully decorated rooms we passed along the way and wondered about their use.

As if reading my mind, Cali said, “Useless space, I let my decorator turn them into sitting rooms. One should probably be a gym but that just feels depressing.”

Up a half staircase we entered a large room lined with bookshelves painted kelly green and stuffed with books. A crystal chandelier hung over seating at the center of the room. I gasped.

“Cool, right?” She said.

I walked to the shelves and began scanning spines. Popular titles made up the majority but there was also one entire floor-to-ceiling section of shelves devoted to paperback mysteries and horror fiction. “You’ve read all the Sookie Stackhouses? And, oh my God! Aurora Teagarden?!”

“Have you watched the Lifetime movies? With Candace Cameron?” She asked excitedly.

In front of the bookshelves sat four wing back chairs, covered in hot pink toile and arranged around an antique coffee table. We tooks seats next to one another, facing the shelves and discussed our shared passion for cozy mysteries.

“I would live in this room,” I said feeling a twinge of jealousy.

“I was just thinking that I should spend more time in here,” she commented.

I reached into my bag then placed my voice recorder on the table.

Cali stared at it and said, “I’ve read about ghosts and monsters for years, right? But I never really believed in any of it until this thing happened with the doll.”

“Doll?” I parroted nervously.

“I promise I’m not pulling your leg and I’m not a complete wack-a-doodle, the whole thing was a nightmare, but I’m sort of almost glad that it happened? Right? Looking back on it, it was almost exciting, you know? Realizing that all this stuff, this ghost stuff, is actually, like real.”

“I know,” I said.

“Like that woman, the one you interviewed with the mimic. What was her name?”

“Lindsay?”

“Right, her. How do you go back to making the kid’s lunches and telling them there’s no such thing as monsters after you’ve actually spoken to one?”

I considered for a moment before answering. “I think it’s because I still don’t completely believe.”

“Fuck off,” she said with a snort. “Didn’t you have to have an exorcism performed on your house?”

“Yeah,” I said slowly, “but lately it just feels almost like wishful thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I totally believe all the stories I’ve heard – for the most part. And I have seen things that I can’t explain, but when I’m listening back and transcribing the interviews and I’m not right there in front of the person, it’s almost like the spell is broken and doubt creeps in. And I just start to wonder, well I get scared really that it’s all just a story and real life is as mundane as it appears to be.”

Cali stared at me. “You’re joking, right?”

“I don’t know,” I said honestly.

“So what, we’re all suffering under some delusional magical thinking?”

“No. I don’t know, I’m not making any sense. But maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s how I can go back to just making my kids lunches by returning to the safety of the idea that it’s all just make believe.”

Cali took a swig of wine. “Mm, like childbirth. Our minds couldn’t possibly hold onto the horror of it or else we’d never do it again.”

I forced a laugh and Cali stood and went to a bank of cabinets along the back wall. She opened one and pulled out a bottle of chilled wine.

“You’re kidding me,” I said.

“It’s my armageddon stash,” she replied before corking the bottle.

As she refilled our glasses she asked, “Do your girls play with American Girl dolls?”

I told her they didn’t, at least not yet.

“Caitlin was never into them, thank God. I mean, one hundred and twenty dollars for a fucking doll? Yeah, no. Not going to happen.”

My face must have betrayed my thoughts because she quickly explained, “I know we’re rich but that doesn’t mean I’m going to spoil the kids. Trust me, I didn’t grow up like this. My husband did, but I didn’t even know how much money he had until he invited me his family compound in Chatham and that was after we’d dated for, like over a year.

“Anyway, our kids don’t get everything they want just because I can pay for it. For Christ’s sake, you’d think we were sending Daisy to an Ivy League college if you saw her preschool tuition. She doesn’t need a hundred-dollar doll.

“Then again it was that pretentious preschool that got her turned onto the damn things. All of Daisy’s little friends have them and she’d been asking me for one since the start of the school year. Then out of the blue one of our neighbors, Linda Cabot, randomly stops by this past fall. We were out raking leaves,” she paused briefly again noting my expression, “Stop. We have landscapers but Caitlin and I were making piles for Daisy to jump in. Anyway, Linda Cabot appears in our backyard holding this box and says it’s a gift for my ‘darling little girl.’ Daisy opens it up and nearly had a stroke when she saw what was inside.

“Linda claimed she’d found the doll while she was cleaning out their attic. Yeah right, that woman has never cleaned her own clothes let alone an attic. And she was acting squirrely, like she wouldn’t stop asking Daisy if she wanted to ‘accept’ the doll. ‘Do you love her, Daisy? Do you want to keep her? Isn’t she pretty? She’s all yours if you will accept her,’” Cali mimicked in a creepy voice. “It was really fuckin’ weird.”

I laughed nervously. “Sounds like a scene from the beginning of a horror movie.”

“Spot on,” Cali replied, tipping her wine glass to me. “That’s exactly what it was like. She was like one of the neighbors in Rosemary’s Baby.”

“I love that you just made that reference,” I said happily.

“Have you read the sequel?”

I nodded and gave a little shrug.

“Kinda flat but still entertaining, right? Sooo, that creepy ass doll. Daisy was pumped, she recognized it and told us it’s name was Kit. Linda was fucking overjoyed that Daisy knew the thing’s name. ‘That’s right darling, it’s Kit Kittredge. She’s a lovely little girl, a little mischievous, but aren’t all little girls?’

“Christ, I wanted to hit her over the head with my rake. Total weirdo. Anyway, Caitlin had the idea to bring Daisy to the American Girl store at the mall that afternoon and have the thing’s hair done and get Daisy a new outfit for it since it was wearing what looked like some sort of an old Christening gown. It was as good a way as any to kill an afternoon and Daze was so freaking excited we hopped in the car and went.

“I’m not trying to be dramatic but that doll was a bummer from the start. This is going to sound like I am exaggerating but while the ‘hair stylist’ (Cali put the words in air quotes) was putting a barrett in the thing’s hair she jumped back from the table and said she’d gotten an electric shock from it. And then Daze wanted to have the thing’s ears pierced, right? So the stylist gets everything all ready to do that shit and then she has to run out of the room quickly to get sick. Really, I am not even kidding you.”

“Yikes,” I said taking a big gulp of wine and taking a mental inventory of the dolls in my daughters’ possession.

“I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the doll at that point obvs, but looking back I totally connected a bunch of dots that didn’t jump out at us at the time. Like, I know it had something to do with the birds.”

“Oh shit,” I breathed.

“Birds started dying everywhere we went. One killed itself by slamming into Daisy’s bedroom window. She was in the room at the time and it completely bummed her out. Then one just flew into my windshield while I was pulling into the driveway – at night! It was dark and this huge black bird just smacked into the windshield. At first I thought someone had thrown something at the car so I jumped out and was ready to raise hell but then I saw it on the ground right next to my door. It was disgusting.

“Oh, and then I was out reading on the patio one afternoon and I saw Babs rolling around on the ground and she wouldn’t stop when I called to her so-”

“Wait, who is Babs,” I interrupted hopefully.

“The dog. Oh that’s right! You love dogs. She’s probably in the basement with Jonathan. Want me to have him bring her up?”

“No, no,” I said, not meaning it.

“Oh, she’s such pain in the ass. Anyway, I figured she’d found a pile of bunny poop or something so I got up to stop her from rolling in it but when I walked over I saw that it was actually a pile of three dead birds! Gak! I called Zoomin’ Groomin’ and had them come over to bathe her immediately.” Cali shivered at the memory.

“I had no reason to connect it to the doll at first, but I mean, I know a fucking omen when I see one and that was way too many dead birds for it to be a coincidence. And I couldn’t get that wack-a-do Linda Cabot out of my mind. I see her every year at our neighborhood progressive dinner, but this isn’t the kind of street where we simply pop over to each other’s houses, you know? And when she’d brought the doll over she’d taken the trouble to walk around to the back yard looking for us, she, like climbed through the landscaping and shit.

“We’d only exchanged meaningless chit chat in the past. I probably told her about my family, but why did Daisy come to her mind for that doll, right? I don’t know. Wait. Where am I in the timeline?” Cali said interrupting herself.

“Um, the doll store?” I offered.

“Yes! Right. So that was weird, that store is weird anyway, but everything about the trip was off.  And then the first night the doll was in the house? That was legitimately concerning. I was in the living room watching television and I heard what I thought was Daisy walking around in her room. I figured she was up playing when she should have been sleeping so I marched right up to tell her to get back into bed, but she was in bed. Fast asleep. That doll was in the middle of her floor so I picked it up and tucked it back into bed with her.

“The second I shut the door I heard little footsteps in her room again. I figured she’d just been pretending to sleep so I waited a second and then threw open the door hoping I’d catch her out of bed. Daisy was still sound asleep and that fucking doll was in the middle of the floor again. That time I just left the damn thing where it was. It’s not like I thought the thing was haunted right then but I was freaked out, and I’m not a dummy.”

“I don’t know, Cali,” I said with a nervous laugh. “This is just almost too much for me, which is saying a lot.”

“Shit, I know, right? It sounds like a Chucky movie, but I swear to you, I swear that everything I am about to tell you happened.”

“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” I said quickly, “Dolls are just…”

“Sorry, we could totally just get drunk and talk shit about people instead if you want,” Cali offered.

“I’d never live it down.”

“It would be amazing to tell people that I scared you, though,” she said.

“You can already tell people that. Let’s just get this over with.”

“You suuuuure?” She asked.

“Shush, get on with it.”

“If you’re sure,” she said, smiling. “So that first night was the footsteps and then the birds started turning up everywhere dead and then Daisy started talking about the doll in a really, like dreadful way. ‘Kit doesn’t like it when your impatient, mommy… Kit doesn’t understand why she can’t come to school with me… Kit doesn’t like the dog, she’s afraid Babs will hurt her…Kit likes to stay up late reading books.’

“It was annoying at first and I was just like, ‘Daisy, cut it out,’ you know? Then one night I’m in the kitchen heating up dinner and Daisy comes up from the basement, she’d been playing down there or whatever, and she goes, ‘I’m sad daddy isn’t going to be home in time to tuck me in.’ I was all ‘He’s on his way home now to have dinner with us, Daze,’ and she goes, ‘No, mommy, he’s stuck in traffic.’

“I thought she was just doing one of her weird little pretend games so I told her to get out of my kitchen and go play until dinner was ready. And then my cell phone rang,” Cali paused dramatically and raised her eyebrows up and down meaningfully. “It was Dex, he was in bumper to bumper traffic on the Pike. He was in gridlock for two hours, there was some tractor trailer accident. Whatever, but Daisy knew that. There wasn’t anyway that she could know it, but she did!”

“Cali,” I said, shaking my head.

“I swear on a stack of Bibles. When I hung up with Dex I was scared. It wasn’t just the birds or the noises coming from Daisy’s room at night, the energy in the house had shifted. It was heavy. So I finished getting dinner ready and called the kids to the table – don’t worry that’s not something we do often, only like once a week if I can pull my shit together – and I asked Daisy how she’d known her dad wasn’t going to be home in time for dinner. She goes, ‘Kit always knows where we are.’

“So I’m trying not to freak out and I’m like, ‘That’s not possible, Daisy, don’t be weird,’ and she says that Kit is ‘really good at knowing things,’ that it’s a game they play – guessing what’s going to happen next. Meanwhile that bobbed hair nightmare doll is sitting on the fucking countertop staring at all of us and Caitlin goes, ‘If Kit’s so great at guessing what’s going to happen then who’s supposed to call me tonight?’

“Daisy glanced over at the doll on the counter and without missing a beat says, ‘Brian Dodge.’ So Caitlin totally freaked out, yelling at Daisy not to lurk around and spy on her. They got into a stupid bicker back and forth and the next thing you know the bowl of limes on the counter – that was sitting right next to that evil piece of plastic – flies off the counter and lands right behind Caitlin’s chair.

“We all went completely silent and still. And we were all staring at Daisy. Jonathan was the first to speak. He asked Daisy if Kat made the bowl fall. And she was quiet for a minute and then goes, “Kit doesn’t like arguing. Her daddy used to get really mad.”

With that, Cali groaned and slumped down in her chair and held her wine glass in both hands as she took a huge gulp.

Speechless and running through scenarios in my mind of what I would do if one of the kids told me the same thing I drank along with her.

“What the fuck? Right?” She finally said. “How do you explain that? I tried to get Daisy to leave the doll downstairs that night, I didn’t want her alone in her room with the thing, but she refused and threw the most spectacular tantrum. I was so rattled I couldn’t argue with her. I thought, fine, let her have the damn thing for one more night and I’ll just get rid of it while she’s at school.

“The next day I threw a blanket over the thing so I wouldn’t have to touch it and slid it into a black garbage bag and took it out to the garbage cans in the garage. I should have brought it to the dump but the trash service was coming the next day and, you know. Whatever. The thing is, I hated even holding the bag, it felt like, and I know this sounds so cliche, but it felt like the doll knew exactly what I was doing.

“In my heart of hearts I knew that wasn’t the end of it. And this is embarrassing, but I was terrified of how Daisy would react when I told her the doll was gone. I had this spooked out paranoid feeling the rest of the day. I did a Boot Camp and some shopping before I went to pick up Daisy that afternoon. I hadn’t exactly worked out what I was going to tell her but, “Mommy threw your doll in the garbage because she thinks it’s haunted by a dead devil child,” didn’t feel quite right. So I was leaning towards pretending I had no idea what had happened to the doll.

“I was actually holding my breath as I watched the garage door go up. I don’t know what I thought was going to happen but I imagined it had something to do with the doll attacking the car. The reality was almost worse than that. The garbage cans had all been overturned, the bags torn apart and trash all over the ground. I just sat there staring, Daisy in her booster seat had a perfect view of the scene. ‘Did Babs get into the trash?’ She asked giggling.

“But then she saw it. The doll at the center of the mess. As though it had been placed there on purpose. I got out of the car and let Daisy out too. I wouldn’t let her go near the garage or that doll. I made an excuse that a rabid raccoon might be around. She freaked out. She lost her mind when I wouldn’t let her go in to the garage to get the doll. Then she started screaming at me for throwing it out. ‘You’re just like her daddy! You want to get rid of her!’

“And with that I lost my cool. I picked her up and lugged in the house and screamed at her for being a little weirdo. I said the doll was freaking everyone out and that I wanted it out of our home, which in hindsight was probably emotionally scarring but we all need something to bring to the therapist so let her add that to her list.”

“Could it have been the dog?” I asked.

“Nope, she was asleep in her little bed when we blew in the door. I can’t believe that it was a coincidence that some raccoon or whatever managed to get into our garage the same day I threw out that vile doll. I was so scared. Daisy was sobbing over the damn thing and I just made her sit on the couch. I wouldn’t let her out of my sight. I was afraid the thing was going to try and possess her or something.”

I nodded my head and held out my glass for a top off. “I would have lit that thing on fire,” I began to say but then there was a noise on the stairs off the library and we both fell silent. Then we heard footsteps in the hallway, “What the fuck is that?” Cali breathed. Then she screamed, “Hello! Who’s there?” And a young girl with tortoise shell glasses poked her head through the doorway, “What are you doing in here?” She asked.

“Oh God, honey you scared the hell out of us. Caitlin, this is Mrs. Sower. Liz, this is my oldest daughter. I’m telling Mrs. Sower about Daisy’s devil doll.”

“Nice to meet you,” Caitlin and I exchanged. Then the girl said, “Mom, don’t talk about that doll.”

“Mrs. Sower is an author, honey. She knows all about haunted dolls. Give me some space, buddy. Go do your homework.”

“It’s done.”

“Of course it is. Go watch the Bachelor or something. Mommy’s having a visit.” Caitlin hesitated, and Cali said, “Honey, it’s fine to talk about it now that the thing is long gone, it’s not listening anymore.”

Once I was sure that Caitlin was out of earshot I said, “Listening?

“Oh yeah, that little fucker was always watching us and listening to every word that we said. This was all before the garbage issue – but when Daisy was still playing with the doll she began to stick around Dex and I in the evening. Which, like whatever, but I’m not into having the kids under foot all the time so they know to do their own thing before dinner time which usually meant Daisy played in her room or in the basement.

“But all of a sudden she was sticking around and she got really into taking photos with her little iPad. I would look over and she’d be photographing me. It was cute at first, but then it started to feel lurky.

“Dex gets home around four-thirty or five most days so we usually have a glass of wine and talk shit about the day before we eat dinner. So I’d been noticing what a clinger Daze had been that week but that night I didn’t realize she had wedged herself underneath the kitchen island behind the stools while Dex and I were sitting and talking. She’d crawled under there with a blanket, the doll, and her iPad.

“Alright, so Dex and I are sitting at the kitchen table, I was listening to him bitch about this one guy at his company – I don’t remember exactly what the issue was, but he was pretty pissed about it – when all of a sudden we hear whispering. I stood up and looked around the room, the creepy thing was that Daisy was hiding, she could see me looking for her and I was calling her name and she just watched me.

“After a minute I spotted her and I was like, well really startled first of all, and really fuicking creeped out so I yelled at her to come the hell out from underneath there. So she crawls out but not before tucking the iPad beneath that damn doll. I was like, “Uh uh, you bring that out here right now and give it to me.’ So she did, and Liz, she had been recording our conversation. I scrolled through all of her photos and videos and realized that she had been sneaking around recording everyone.

“I was freaking out and Dex, who was still sitting at the table was like, ‘Calm down, it’s not a big deal she’s just taking pictures of the family,’ so I dropped the iPad down on the table in front of him and played the video Daisy had just taken of him calling one of his co-workers a douchebag. That got him. He goes, ‘Daze, nobody likes a snoop, kid,’ and she said something like, ‘It wasn’t my idea, daddy.’ Well then whose idea was it, right? We finally got her to admit why she’d been spying on the entire family. She said the doll told her to do it.”

“And you didn’t throw away the damn thing right then and there?” I said in disbelief.

Cali rolled her eyes. “Dex was all, ‘She’s just a kid… she’s going through a weird phase… maybe she’s just a creative type… Creative my ass,” Cali said with a snort. “She can barely draw a stick figure.

“So what was the final straw? I mean the garage thing but how did you finally get rid of it?” I asked.

“Right, well, by the time Dex got home the night of the garbage crisis Daisy had finally calmed down and was watching television but her eyes were almost swollen shut from crying and her voice was raspy from screaming. Caitlin was at the kitchen table pretending to do her homework, but really I think she was afraid to be by herself in the house. Oh, yeah, in the middle of Daisy’s tantruming Caitlin had told me that she’d been hearing whispering coming from Daisy’s room the past few nights, two voices mind you.

“Needless to fucking say, I was teetering on the edge of sanity and about two glasses of wine deep when Dex showed up. ‘What in the hell happened in the garage? Do we have raccoons?’ He asked as he walked through the door. Then he took quick stock of the situation and told me to come up to our bedroom to talk about what was going on. Caitlin panicked for a minute but luckily Jonathan came in right then and I told him he had to sit in the kitchen with his sisters.  

“I explained as well as I could to Dex. I hadn’t exactly been holding things back from him, but I wasn’t giving him a daily update of how weird things had gotten with Daisy. So he was all skeptical at first and I got pretty testy. Like, really Dex? Dead birds and phantom footsteps, Caitlin’s hearing whispering and the day I decide to throw the fucking doll out a raccoon trashes the garage? Not to mention the crazy attachment Daisy had to the doll.

“He agreed that we should get rid of it but wanted to call Linda to ask her if she wanted it back, you know? Which I thought was a bunch of hairy horse shit, the thing was fucking possessed. But he said maybe we could find out a little bit more about the thing if we talked to her. So I was just like, fine, if that will get this thing out of my house I’ll call her myself. I texted around for her phone number and she answered on the first ring. I cut right to the chase, I said, ‘We’re gonna need to return your doll, Linda and she got all uppity and offended and then, man I’ll tell you what, that Yankee had a mouth on her. ‘How dare I act like such an ungrateful little bitch,’ and ‘No wonder my daughter was acting strangely with a mother like me.’

“I put the phone on speaker and let Dex listen to the woman go on for a minute before she goes, ‘I’ll never take that doll back. It’s your problem now,’ and hangs up on me.

“That freaked him out. He went out and cleaned up the garage. He rebagged the doll and put it in the gun safe in the basement-”

“Please tell me it didn’t escape from a locked safe,” I pleaded.

“No, no,” Cali reassured me. “But the house was fucking creepy that night. I don’t know how to describe it other than it was heavy. Daisy wasn’t speaking to anyone, the other kids were jumpy and I was totally on edge.”

“Why did you let him bring it back into the house?” I asked.

“Dex was trying to be the rational, skeptical one, but Linda’s reaction to my phone call completely weirded him out. He was like,’I want to know exactly where that thing is and I want to make sure someone else doesn’t find it if I just dump it somewhere.’ So we decided to shelve the problem for the night and sleep on it. Or at least we tried to sleep on it. I was so creeped out I was afraid to close my eyes. I had Caitlin and Jonathan sleep in the bunk beds in the kids’ guest room, and they didn’t protest too hard. I just kept Daisy in her room. I’m not going to lie, I was afraid of her. I didn’t know if the doll had some sort of hold or influence over her, so after I put her to bed I lined up some Diet Coke cans in front of her doorway so that if she opened the door in the middle of the night the cans would wake us up.”

“That is brilliant.”

“Thanks,” she said dismissively.

“Then what?” I asked.

“Dex and I did some Googling and the thing that kept coming up were these eBay sales,” Cali said draining her glass. “There were hundreds of listings for haunted dolls – the majority of which where obvious bullshit, but there were a few that actually sounded legit. The postings sounded like they were written by people who were in our exact same situation, they somehow ended up with a severely haunted doll and they wanted someone to take it off their hands. Our only other option was to burn the thing but I remember hearing that you’re not supposed to burn a Ouija board because you could let the spirits out of it and I sure as hell didn’t want to let the spirit out of the doll, so eBay it was.”

“Did you get any interest?”

“Within twenty minutes of posting the doll we had seventeen offers. After a day we had over one-hundred. Some of the emails were from absolute sociopaths. One woman even admitted that she wanted the thing so she could send it to her boyfriend’s wife.”

“What in the world did you write in the listing?” I asked, riveted.

“Okay, so that was tricky because at first I was like just tell people they can have it, but Dex reminded me how weird I said Linda was when she gave the doll to Daisy, right? She kept saying something like, ‘Do you accept the doll,’ so we made sure to add that into the listing. We said that we wanted to gift the doll to a new owner and that the owner would need to ‘accept’ the doll both in writing and in person.”

“Eek,” I said, shaking my head at the idea of the stranger danger involved in the transaction. “Who bought it?”

“A twenty-five year old hairdresser,” she said with a laugh. “His arms were both completely covered with tattoos and he had a little mohawk. Told us he wanted to put it in his shop for ‘decoration.’ I felt like he didn’t believe us. Like it was a joke, right?

“I asked him if he was sure he wanted to take the thing and I think he saw then that we were really serious. He definitely hesitated before getting all cool and ‘Yeah, man, my clients will dig it.’

“So we gave it to him.”

“Have you heard anything from him since?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, he’s emailed a couple times. The first email he seemed excited, told us that things had been moved around his shop. He admitted he hadn’t completely believed us at first but now he did. The second email he seemed to take the whole thing more seriously. He’d been hearing voices.” Cali gave a shiver.

“But that was it for your family? You didn’t have anything else happen at the house?”

“Nothing,” Cali said, shaking her head.

“What about Daisy, though? I mean, she was obviously affected by the thing did you do anything to be sure she wasn’t, like affected by the doll?”

Cali smirked, “What do you take me for? Of course I did. I had our priest come and bless the house and I brought Daisy in three times to the church to haver blessings spoken over her. I have my eye on her, but she seems pretty much back to normal. She was freaking the fuck out after we took the doll away, you know? Right up until we gave it to that guy. Then she was just over it.”

“Crazy,” I breathed, “and everything just went back to normal once the guy took the doll?” I asked, skeptically.

“One hundred percent back to normal,” Call confirmed. She stared at her wine glass for a moment. “Huh, I kinda see what you mean,” she said. “The belief begins to wear off doesn’t it? The whole thing just doesn’t pack as much of a punch as it once did.”

“It starts to feel like more of a story than something that actually happened, right?” I agreed glumly.

 

***

 

As I rode home in the Uber, feeling buzzed and slightly creeped out I considered Cali’s story. She truly believed her daughter had befriended a possessed doll just as I believed I’d seen a small shadow figure in my basement months ago. Cali’s doll had terrorized her family and now it was gone just like my shadow figure and with them went some of the true belief in their existence.

I still loved hearing people’s stories and I knew that there were plenty more for me to discover. But I had a nagging frustration. What would it take to make me believe if I could experience it for myself and still shrug my shoulders and say, “Yeah, I talked face to face with a mimic, but have you heard the one about the woman on Cliff Road who had a haunted doll?” When would it be enough?

I tipped the Uber driver and walked up the short driveway to my little yellow house. A house that I wouldn’t be able to call mine for much longer and that night I had the first dream. I was in the new house in the kitchen rifling through the cabinets. Unable to find what I was looking for I walked down to the basement to retrieve it. I wound my way past the laundry room and the playroom to the storage area. At the shelves I reached for a box marked “kitchen.” I was about to pull it down when I heard the noise. It was coming from the crawl space beneath the family room. The home inspector had pointed out several dead mice in that space during our walk through months before. But mice couldn’t have made this noise. It was too loud, too heavy. I hesitated and stared at crack in the rough wooden doors that closed off the crawl space. I stared intently at the the rusty latch that kept them closed.

In my dream I stood very still. When no further noise was made I reached up for the box again ready to grab what I’d come for and beat feet back upstairs. And then something threw itself against those doors, the ones closing off the crawl space. The ones the previous home owners had told me were only there to keep the ground chill from creeping into the basement. The ones that were held shut by a simple hook and eye latch. In my dream I ran up the steps and out the front door. In my dream I stood in the driveway staring up at our new house and watched all of the windows change and become covered by the same rough wood that covered the crawl space. I watched as they began to rattle as if something was trying to get out of the house.

I woke up in a cold sweat. It was just a dream. I told myself. I drank too much last night and it was just a bad dream.

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