By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: Every time she passed the doll on the dresser, it seemed to move. It seemed to watch her. It seemed to be trying to tell her something.
Haley walked into her room, saw the doll, and took three deep breaths. Her shoulders rounded as her messenger bag slipped to the floor. Her heart murmured its familiar complaint, and she tried to ignore it as she crossed the room to the dresser.
This is ridiculous, she thought, the words more brave than how she felt.
Since Haley had brought the doll up from the basement, she’d gone through every emotion on the spectrum. She eyed the doll in its latest position—today it lay face down on the dresser, something it had started doing every single day for the last week—and dropped into the chair at her desk, letting her hands cradle her head.
She didn’t even remember now what had compelled her to bring the doll upstairs. She just remembered standing in the basement, a little confused as to how she’d gotten down there. She must have descended into the basement for…what? Haley stood still for a moment, her memory fumbling, her eyes roaming over the oversized plastic containers of Christmas decorations and winter clothes. She wished her eye would land on something to remind her of what she needed or even wanted.
She never did recall what took her into the basement, but she saw the doll. Suzanna. As soon as she saw it, the named popped out of her mouth as if on a spring. She grabbed Suzanna and brought her upstairs, reassured by the doll’s weight in her hands, and sat her on the window seat.
The next day, after she came back from class, Haley nearly jumped out of her skin when she found Suzanna standing with her back to the closet door.
She left the room and looked for her mother who hadn’t come home from work yet. Her mom must have moved the doll by accident. Of course; Mom was cleaning up and grabbed the doll because she had an armful of…sheets? Towels? It couldn’t have been dirty clothes from Haley’s room; she did her own laundry. But Mom’s arms were full, and she didn’t notice when she’d dropped the doll by the closet.
The logic didn’t soothe her palpitations, but she clutched it with ferocity.
Her terror dimmed in the weeks after that incident. The doll didn’t seem to want to punch her to a pulp with its tiny porcelain hands. It just kept moving from spot to spot, no matter how many times Haley sat it on the dresser. She didn’t like to think about the doll moving around on its own. Tried not to analyze how it got down from the dresser. Or why.
In any case, Haley had bigger problems on her hands. Her professors all seemed in agreement that her work was less than stellar. They’d stopped grading her work and refused to answer questions no matter how many times she tried to stop them to ask about it.
And the fatigue. Haley wondered whether she had caught something at the university. Mono was always common on college campuses; had she come down with it somehow and not known? Maybe the fatigue was why she couldn’t remember the drive home every day. She made it to the university in the morning, attended classes, and then in an eyeblink arrived at the front door of the house ready for bed.
A scraping sound made Haley look up. Her heart froze when she saw Suzanna drag herself to her feet. Her plastic eyes clicked as they blinked once, twice, three times. Then she let herself fall forward, her body landing in a thud on the floor.
Haley screamed and shot to her feet. One hand covered her mouth, and the other yanked the bedroom door open. She ran down the stairs and kept screaming, calling for Mom, Dad, anyone who would listen. Running into the kitchen, she made it past the pantry and pulled open the door to the basement. With a single breath, she began screaming again and threw herself down the stairs.
Suzanna flipped herself over, her eyes clicking several times as if blinking back tears.
Matt arrived at the house early the next morning and parked the car on the opposite sidewalk. The bulldozers would be there in an hour. Before they began their work, he wanted to see the house one last time.
He stared at it, trying to burn it into his memory. Without turning, he stretched a hand toward the passenger seat. After a moment, he felt Cindy’s fingers lace with his. Her other hand, ice cold, covered his. Ever since Haley’s accident five years earlier, Cindy’s hands stayed cold. Always.
They used to be warm. When they first married, Matt would tease her about her “hand warmers” as he called them, welcome in the dead of winter but annoying when summer held the city in its vise. Now, though…now he’d give anything to feel that warmth, to be able to pull her hands around to the small of his back or swat them away when she teased him with a tickle.
“You sure you don’t want to walk around one last time, honey?” he asked, still not looking at her.
“No,” she said in a small voice. Her voice, one that he used to hear above everyone else’s at dinner parties, had shrunk as her grief swelled and pushed everything else out.
“We could maybe save one or two of her things, you know. After today we won’t—”
“I don’t want anything. Haley’s gone. The house should go too.”
Suzanna pulled herself to a sitting position. She could hear rumbles from outside, but these weren’t rain rumbles. They sounded louder, more final. They sounded like the world was ending.
Haley put her hands on her hips, wondering what she was doing in the basement. Why was she down here again? What did she need?
And why did she feel like everything would be different after today?