We always knew that my Aunt Margot was…eccentric. When I was a child, one of her favorite hobbies was gluing bugs, while they were still alive, onto pieces of cardboard and then framing said pieces all around her house. I remember being seven years old, sitting in her tan armchair that smelled like stale vomit, and seeing a beetle wriggling in fresh glue on the wall in front of me. To this day, I have a fear of bugs.
As I grew older, I lessened my contact with her until we were living hours apart and I would only receive a birthday card from her every year, consistently two months after my actual birthday. That is, until about a month ago.
I was preparing sack lunches for the twins when my husband Nick walked into the kitchen, holding a glittery pink envelope with a grin plastered on his face.
I set the butter knife down and reached for the envelope. “But my birthday—what she thinks is my birthday—isn’t for another four months.”
Inside the envelope was a two-page letter, at no point mentioning my birthday. Instead, it described the gaping hole in Aunt Margot’s roof which had been created during a severe thunderstorm and how she needed a place to stay while the roof got fixed.
Nick frowned as I read it aloud. “Why doesn’t she go stay at your uncle’s house?”
I shook my head. “His wife is going through chemo right now.”
“She has no one else?”
And so it was decided. Aunt Margot would come stay with us for a while.
~ ~ ~
She was dressed rather normally, at least not wearing her neon green tube top, when she arrived at our house. What was not normal, however, was the large porcelain doll clutched tightly to her chest as she walked inside.
I had never seen it before but it made the hairs on my neck bolt upright. It was about the size of a toddler, with glassy green eyes and clumps of plastic hair that shot out of its head in spirals. The doll was wearing a blue cotton dress with a striped ribbon tied around its wrist in a neat bow.
We were all silent as Aunt Margot made her way in. The twins, Peter and Abbie, stood behind me and I felt one of them grab onto my pants as she set her suitcase down on the floor with a loud thud.
Aunt Margot adjusted her glasses, which had slid down her nose, and beamed at me.
“It’s so lovely to see you, Lily.”
I mustered up a smile and approached her. “You too, Aunt Margot.”
We exchanged pecks on the cheek and I was leaning down to grab her suitcase when she tapped me on the shoulder.
“You forgot to say hello to Jane.”
My mouth went dry. I straightened up and looked at her, confused.
“She’s a bit shy but she’s excited to see you, truly,” Aunt Margot continued. She held up the doll to my face and I recoiled, stumbling back and nearly stepping on Peter’s foot.
I glanced nervously at Nick and he returned a similar expression, before stepping in, grabbing the suitcase, and announcing to Aunt Margot that he would show her to her room, up on the second floor.
She shrugged, tucked one arm around the doll, and followed him up the stairs. The twins and I watched as they reached the landing and disappeared around the corner.
“Mommy, is she sleeping here?” Abbie asked me in a small voice.
I nodded. “But only for a short while, sweetie. She’s very nice, you’ll see, and she makes excellent chocolate brownies.”
Later that night, after the twins were asleep and Aunt Margot was somewhere downstairs, I slipped into bed next to Nick and sighed.
“Did I ever tell you about Jane?”
My husband shook his head.
“She…well, Aunt Margot had a daughter, years ago. Named Jane. She was, uh, actually around my age, perhaps a little older. She died a few years ago. Hit and run.”
Nick swore softly.
I stared at the door, listening to Aunt Margot rummage around beneath us.
“I had no idea about the doll though.”
“Some sort of bizarre coping mechanism?” Nick suggested.
“I guess so.”
~ ~ ~
The next couple of days were strained, to say the least. I worked at a law firm in the center of town, which involved an hour-long commute there and back and spending several hours in the office every day. The twins went to school. Which left Nick, a computer programmer who worked from home, alone with Aunt Margot for most of the time.
At the beginning, he seemed fine with it. We would all convene for dinner around seven. Nick would have dinner waiting for us, and we would all sit together at the glossy mahogany table in the dining room. Me, Nick, Peter, Abbie, Aunt Margot, and Jane.
The doll had her own seat, Aunt Margot insisted on it. After the first few nights, I figured a way to position my chair so that the doll would be out of my peripheral and I could eat without feeling cold unblinking eyes on me.
Aunt Margot would smash her spoon into a lump of potatoes and bring it up to Jane’s mouth, featuring painted-on lips that at one point were probably red but now looked like a blood stain. The spoon would clink against the porcelain, the potato glop would roll down the sculpted cheeks and spill onto the floor which I would later have to mop up.
“She’s a bit of a messy eater, this one!” Aunt Margot would laugh.
After dinner, we all had our own different activities. Nick and I would clean up dinner while the twins watched some TV for an hour.
Aunt Margot liked to go outside and sit on the porch swing with Jane. They would sit there in the dark, framed by the porchlight. I could see them from the kitchen window as I scrubbed plates and it made my stomach churn to see the tiny misshapen head slowly tilt more and more to the side until the doll had slumped against the seat cushions. Aunt Margot would stop swinging momentarily to adjust Jane and the process would start again.
I felt terrible for the twins. They were clearly terrified of Aunt Margot and Jane. On the third night, Abbie woke me up with round fearful eyes to tell me that she had found Jane stuffed in her bedside drawer.
Simmering with rage from my child’s fright, I rose from bed and told Abbie she could sleep in our bed that night. As she snuggled under the sheets, her body still shaking, I went to her room to get Jane.
The doll was indeed stuffed into the bedside drawer. One of its hands, carved into an eternal fist, was sticking out next to the bed. My heart nearly skipped a beat as I yanked the drawer open to see its polished eyes and blood-stain smile peeking out of the darkness. I took the doll by its hair and walked with light but quick feet to Aunt Margot’s room.
I didn’t knock. I turned the knob and strode right in, tossing the doll onto her bed.
“Why was Jane in my daughter’s room?” I asked, trying to control the volume of my seething voice.
Aunt Margot sat up in bed and glanced at the doll.
“Oh. Yes, sorry,” she said in an unfazed voice, gently taking the doll into her arms. “Jane and I were playing hide-and-seek earlier. She’s very good at it.”
At that moment, I was about ready to burst with frustration when I saw a wrinkled photo in bed next to Aunt Margot. It was a picture of her and Jane, the real Jane. I remember when the photo was taken. Easter, about twelve years ago. It was a large, boisterous family affair, back when my parents were alive. The photo had been taken while we were all running around, cracking cascarones over each other’s heads. Jane was in the middle of a laugh as bright confetti spilled down her hair and Aunt Margot was looking at her with a smile that made my heart ache. I noticed that the photo was wet and then I looked at Aunt Margot who was cradling the doll with a faraway look in her eyes.
“Please don’t leave Jane in any of our rooms again,” was all I said before turning and quietly shutting the door behind me.
And she didn’t. For the next week or so, everything was normal, or at least, normal enough with Aunt Margot around.
~ ~ ~
I didn’t realize how much of a toll Aunt Margot’s and Jane’s presence was taking on Nick until the night that Nick made spaghetti carbonara.
We were all seated at the dining table, chatting about that day’s events. Peter was telling us how there had been a school assembly for all the fourth graders about fire safety. The twins were giggling about the cheetah mascot who had ripped a hole in the butt of the costume while explaining how to stop, drop, and roll, when suddenly we all heard glass shatter.
Aunt Margot had been attempting to give Jane some water and had lost grip of the glass.
“Oops!” Aunt Margot announced, bending over to pick up the broken cup.
Nick slammed his hand against the table, making it tremble. He stood up, his face reddening to the color of the tablecloth.
Aunt Margot froze. I reached for Nick’s hand, beckoning him to sit back down, but he knocked his chair to the side as he walked towards Aunt Margot.
“This. Is. Ridiculous.”
“Nick, please,” I urged, standing up as well.
He was swift. One second the doll was drooped in the chair next to Aunt Margot, and the next second it was in Nick’s trembling hands.
“She’s not real!” he yelled at Aunt Margot, shoving the doll into her face.
Aunt Margot was silent, her eyes glimmering with tears.
The lack of response made Nick even angrier. He shook his head and for a moment I thought he was going to sit back down. Instead, he smashed the doll against the wall.
Aunt Margot let out a scream as Jane’s glass eyes popped out of the crushed head and dropped to the floor, rolling away to a corner. Shards of porcelain flew this way and that. Nick released the remains of the doll, which fell in a crumpled heap.
Abbie began to cry and Peter’s face was ashen. I scrambled over to the twins, taking them both by the hand, and ushered them up the stairs to go play in their rooms. After spending ten minutes trying to calm them down, I left them and returned to the dining room.
Aunt Margot was on her knees, frantically trying to piece the doll back together. A ribbon of blood crawled down her arm from one of the shards of porcelain. I looked back at the kitchen to see Nick hunched over the counter, his hands clutching the sink tightly.
I kneeled down and gently touched Aunt Margot’s shoulder. “You’re hurt. I can clean this up, okay?”
She continued to grab at pieces as sobs wracked her whole body.
We sat there on the floor together for hours. Nick eventually went up to bed, without saying a word, and eventually Aunt Margot was able to composer herself enough to stand up.
As I helped to steady her, my aunt looked at me with red-ringed eyes.
“She must be in so much pain right now.”
I nodded, saying nothing more.
~ ~ ~
After the incident, everything changed with Aunt Margot. She mostly stayed in her room, watching TV or sleeping. Nick never apologized to her, even though I begged him to every day. But anytime I mentioned Jane, the crimson flush would creep into his face and I would drop the subject.
About a week later, we got a call saying the Aunt Margot’s roof was fixed. Needless to say, my husband and the kids were overjoyed.
The day before Aunt Margot was to leave, the neighborhood hosted a pool party. The pool was only a five minute walk from our house, so I stayed with the kids at the party while Nick would come and go, to socialize for a while and then return to his work. Aunt Margot stayed at the house.
Peter was playing in the pool with his friends and Abbie was sitting at the edge with her best friend Georgia. They were braiding each other’s hair, when Georgia whispered something to Abbie and she nodded. Abbie stood up and ran up to me.
“Hey, don’t run here, sweetie, you could slip and fall.”
“Sorry! Can Georgia and I play with the Gameboys?”
I smiled. “Sure. Daddy is at home, so go and ask him where they are.”
She beamed at me and was off.
I returned to talking with a few of the moms, who were currently gossiping about the new advice counselor at school.
One of them, a tall woman named Lina, turned to me and touched my arm.
“Hey, how are you doing?”
I shrugged. “She’s leaving tomorrow, so I’m just waiting for it to be over.”
Lina gave a sympathetic smile. “Yeah, that must have been so tough. Hopefully Nick will be better once she leaves. He’s been staring blankly at the food table for like five minutes now, poor thing.”
I looked over at the food table to see Nick standing miserably, his hands in his pockets. I excused myself from Lina and approached him.
“Hey, I thought you were at home.”
He shook his head. “I can’t stand being in the house alone with her.”
A pang of dread hit me sharply. “I sent Abbie home to get the Gameboys.”
We both exchanged looks of panic before breaking into a run towards the house.
The house was quiet when we burst through the front door, panting and calling out for Abbie. Downstairs was empty, so we both bounded up the stairs, me first with Nick trailing behind me.
No one was in Abbie’s room. We booked it for Aunt Margot’s room next and came face to face with a locked door.
I banged against the door, pleading for her to open it. No response.
Nick told me to move, and he backed up against the stair railing before charging full force at the door. It opened with a groan, allowing both of us to tumble in.
Aunt Margot was standing over the bed. Abbie was lying down still on the bed, her curls spilling against the ruffled sheets. Aunt Margot’s hands were tightly closed around Abbie’s throat, choking squeaks coming from my daughter.
Nick lunged at Aunt Margot, sending her flying onto the carpet. I rushed to Abbie, whose face was nearly drained of all color. Her arms were cold as I scooped up her body and continued to repeat her name.
“Call 911,” I gasped at Nick, feeling Abbie’s body rattle faintly against me.
He pinned Aunt Margot to the floor with one knee and searched desperately for his phone. It fell from his pocket and clattered to the floor. Aunt Margot seized it with her free hand and handed it to him.
“I’m sorry,” she wheezed. “She looks like Jane a little. But—but…” her words drifted off and then she muttered something that I could not hear.
I buried my head in Abbie’s chest, tears rolling down my cheeks, and as Nick called 911, I carried her into our bedroom.
Abbie was breathing, but erratically. I laid her down and cupped my hands around her face. Her eyes were fluttering open and closed.
“Please, sweetie, stay awake.”
Tied around her wrist was the striped ribbon, in a neat little bow. Something small bulged out of Abbie’s shorts pocket.
I stuck one hand in the pocket and pulled out two glassy green eyes. In horror, I threw them across the room. That was when the wheels in my brain feverishly started turning and I realized that I had actually heard the words that Aunt Margot had muttered. Words that, to this day, rip me awake from my dreams in the dead of night.
Too soft, too warm.
Story entries for the Sepetember-October (2016) Sixpenceee Story Contest can be found here. Simply submit a story to enter. Stories don't necessarily have to be creepy, for example, thought provoking stories or stories with a twist are definitely acceptable.
Really good. It was still discomforting [which is to be expected on this forum lol], but I loved how it primarily focussed on the aunt's grief more than the uncanny aspects. I simultaneously felt discomfort and sympathy when Nick smashed the doll up.
"The privilege of absurdity; to which no living creature is subject but man only." -Thomas Hobbes
"We are all born mad. Some remain so." -Estragon (Waiting for Godot)
"We are all born mad. Some remain so." -Estragon (Waiting for Godot)
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