March 28, 2023
I stand outside the house, gawking at it. It has always reminded me of a dollhouse. Every detail is designed carefully. Every shingle and every window pane is placed with care.
As a little girl, I had always loved that house, but my mother, not so much. When we moved in there with my grandma I remember her telling me how creepy she found it. She said its dark paint and huge windows made it look like a shadow looming over the street. We only lived there for six months until my mother suddenly packed our things and moved us away. I haven’t been back to this house until today. Last week, I received a letter informing me that my grandmother was sick, so I got on a plane and headed to Alpena, Michigan.
Arriving at the house, I walk up the creaky porch steps and knock on the door. A woman in floral scrubs answers and invites me in.
“You must be Mrs. Russo’s granddaughter,” she says. I smile and nod. “Yes, I’m Amelia,” I say as I look around the room, studying the dark curtains and the velvety wallpaper.
“It’s very nice to meet you. I’m your grandmother’s nurse, Kelly. You can go see your grandmother whenever you’re ready…but just so you know, she may not know who you are. She goes in and out,” she says solemnly.
I walk up the staircase, gliding my hand over the smooth oak banister. I walk down the hall to the room I remember staying in with my mother when I was young. It’s always been the brightest, most cheerful room in the house, and it reminds me of her.
When I’m done unpacking, I walk downstairs and ask Kelly where my grandmother’s room is. I figure I might as well get it over with. Kelly takes me down a long hallway and pushes open a thick, oak door on the right. The room is dark, except for one candle burning fiercely on the bedside table. My grandmother is lying on her back covered by a thin sheet. She doesn’t move when I enter.
“Hi Grandmother,” I say, approaching her. She doesn’t respond. She just turns her head slightly to look at me. Then she closes her eyes.
“She’s tired right now. After her nap she might be more herself,” Kelly says, making a motion for me to leave. I walk out of the room. I know I should be sad seeing my grandmother wither away to almost nothing, but it’s been so long, I almost feel nothing.
One week later…
It’s been a week since my arrival. Every night when I go to sleep, I have the weirdest dreams. I dream of a little girl. She stands at the foot of my bed and mouths something to me, but I wake up before I can figure out what it is. The weirdest thing is, she looks so familiar.
Grandmother has barely spoken a word. Every day I go to see her, I’ll read to her, or tell her about my mom. Sometimes she nods, but most of the time she gives no response. Kelly says today is one of her “bad days,” so I’m letting her rest. I decide to do some organizing and start with the top floor. I spend hours going through each room and through piles of boxes, trying to decide which things to keep and which to give away. As I’m walking down the hallway, I see the door that leads to the attic. I suddenly have a vivid memory of being a child and sneaking up there to play with my grandmother’s old dolls, only to have my grandmother yell at me. After that, she locked the door.
Shaking off the memory, I open the door and it creaks, causing me to jump. When I get to the top of the stairs, I’m met with a familiar smell: dust and wood. I look around and see boxes full of old dolls. As a girl, I thought they were cool and mysterious, but now it’s just creepy. It’s like they’re staring at me, watching me. I grab a trash bag and start going through the boxes, figuring I’ll throw away any broken dolls.
As I’m looking, something catches my eye, a door, in the far corner. It’s small, like the size a normal door would be if it were cut in half. It has chipped, green paint. I walk over to it and place my hand on the cold knob. I turn it and pull the door open. I crouch down and crawl through the doorway on my hands and knees, trying to avoid bumping my head. The room is small, and it almost feels like the walls are closing in on me. The ceiling is low and there’s nothing in the room except for a chair with a doll sitting on it. As I move deeper into the room, I feel a chill run up my spine, and suddenly feel like there are eyes all around me. I spin around, and to my horror, I see dozens of dolls, all turned toward me. I can see their little faces staring at me. My heart begins to beat faster and I back away, almost tripping over something. I jump and spin around.
Looking down, my eyes fall on the body of a doll– no wait, a little girl. She’s wearing a pale pink dress and her eyes, like glass, stare back at me. Oh my god, I think, she looks exactly like the doll on the chair! I gasp, dropping quickly to my hands and feet and crawling out the door, scrambling to get away as I run past the boxes of dolls. I run and run until I get downstairs.
“Kelly!” I yell, running to my grandmother’s room. “There’s a little girl in the attic! I think she’s dead!” I gasp as I enter the room. My grandmother looks at me and I see fear in her eyes. She opens her mouth to say something, but Kelly has already started hurrying out of the room. She and I run up the stairs to the attic. I go to take her to the little green door, but to my horror, the door has vanished…like it never existed.
“The… the door, it was right here. And the girl…she was lying on the ground in the little room and she looked just like the doll in the chair!” I say frantically. Kelly stares at me, confused.
“Little room?” she asks, doubt all over her face. “Amelia, I’ve been up here before and never seen a door. Maybe you should get some sleep or eat something,” she says, patting me on the shoulder as she walks back to the stairs.
I stand there, staring at where the little door was. I know I didn’t imagine it.
That night, after Kelly leaves, I go to my grandmother’s room. She’s lying on her back as usual and doesn’t move as I enter. “Grandmother?” I say taking her hand, “You there?” She does not answer. “You know about the door, don’t you?” I say quietly. I feel her hand tense, and she turns her head. “I didn’t imagine it, did I ?”
“No,” she croaks. “Stay away!” she says, grabbing my wrist with her other hand. “If she sees you, she’ll claim you like she claimed your sister…” she trails off.
“My sister?” I say. “I don’t have a sister, Grandmother.” She looks at me sadly as if she’s forcing the words out.
“You did…she took her. She tried to take you too, but I made your mother take you away before it was too late.” I blink at her, confused. “You were too young to remember, but you and your sister would go up to the attic and play for hours in that room. You both loved it until one day, she appeared. I knew she had been watching you—she told me so—but I didn’t think she would do anything.” Her eyes met mine, and I saw regret in them. “I heard your screams and I ran to you, but it was too late: Your sister was gone.”
She pauses, then lifts a trembling finger to point at a framed photo on the dresser across from her bed. I stare at the photo of a young girl in a pink dress, and then my eyes widen: It’s the girl I saw on the chair in the attic!
“My–my…sister?!” I whisper.
“Yes,” says my grandmother, weeping softly, “when I see her in my dreams, every night, she looks just like that, not a day older. And I, too, saw her body in the attic after your mother took you away. You aren’t able to see the bodies of the others; they are only in the form of dolls, but she keeps part of your sister out to torture me,” she says.
“What is she?” I ask.
“She calls herself The Porcelain. She takes souls and puts them in the dolls, feeding off of them slowly.” I give her a questioning look and she sighs. “I know, it sounds like a Scooby Doo episode, but she’s dangerous. She calls me her ‘caretaker’. She chooses a new caretaker every time the previous one passes away and once she has chosen you, there is nothing you can do; you’re trapped as her slave. Caretakers are the only ones who are safe from her, though. She can’t hurt us because we supply her with the one thing she needs to survive: souls. I didn’t know this until she took your sister. Ever since that day, I’ve had to supply her with a new soul once a month.” She pauses again and looks me in the eyes. “I think that she…” She suddenly stops, her face going blank.
“Grandmother?” I ask, tapping her arm. “What is it?” I ask frantically, but she’s gone again, back to wherever she mentally retreats when her eyes go blank.
I stand, leave the room, and walk up to my own room to grab a flashlight. Then I walk to the end of the hallway and open the attic door. I stare up the dark staircase for a moment, fear gripping me. I take a deep breath in and begin climbing the stairs. Each creak sends a shiver down my spine. When I get to the top, I click my flashlight on and shine it around the room. The dolls are in the same position as earlier, staring at me, with their glass eyes seeming to follow my every move. I shine my flashlight in the corner of the room, and there it is: the door is there again, just as before. I go to it and turn the knob, pulling it open slowly. The chair is in the center of the room with the porcelain doll sitting on it, but this time, a candle is burning slowly in the doll’s hands, a small light in the darkness.
Suddenly, I hear a raspy voice. “Hello Amelia,” it says. I look around, trying to figure out where it came from, but it’s almost like the voice is inside my head. “You know who I am, don’t you?” it says. Its voice could be compared to the sound of nails on a chalkboard, and I grind my teeth when it speaks.
“Leave my grandmother alone. Leave this house!” I say, raising my voice.
“That’s not a very nice way to speak,” it says, chuckling. “Your grandmother is sick and dying. Unfortunately, that is what happens to your weak human bodies,” it sighs, seemingly annoyed. “I’ve summoned you to take her place. You are to be my new caretaker.”
“I’m not working for you,” I say through my teeth.
“Your sister is still alive. Her spirit haunts these halls. If you stay, you will be able to see her every day in your dreams, I will send her to you if that is what you wish.” The voice echoes through me as I stare at my sister’s body that lies in the dark corner of the room. I shudder as I see her skin shine in the light, like porcelain.
“No, that is not my sister, that is the shell of my sister. You destroyed her. I won’t be the reason you get to destroy more innocent people,” I say.
“You should be grateful. I am not always this generous with my chosen ones. Learn to be polite, or I will slice you open and tear out your organs, then reach inside your mouth and pull out your eyeballs. I’ll melt your skin until nothing is left of you to be recognized!” it hisses angrily. I feel my stomach twist.
Suddenly, I look up at the wall and in the flicker of the candlelight, I see a figure, a shadow. It’s tall and wiry, its hands at its side, and its long fingernails end in a curl. I stand still, frozen in fear. Before I can blink, its arm shoots out, its long fingers wrapping around my throat. I scratch at its ashy skin, but it doesn’t stop. I gasp for air, trying to think. I look at the doll in the chair that looks like my sister, then raise my foot and kick the chair. It falls on its side, the doll only a few inches away from me. I raise my foot again, smashing it as hard as I can onto the doll’s face. The voice screeches and its grip loosens around my throat. I smash the doll again with my foot. A loud, cracking sound fills the room as I smash it over and over. The voice screeches in pain.
Suddenly, I remember what my grandma said, that all the dolls are filled with the souls of her victims. I scramble through the door, and back into the room filled with boxes of dolls. I pick one up and throw it against the wall and it shatters on the floor. I hear the horrible screeching noise ringing in my ears. I pick up another and another, throwing them against the wall, and watching them smash into hundreds of pieces. The voice groans and screams in pain as I work my way through its collection, smashing them all.
When I’m finished, the screams stop. I look around the room at the mess of broken dolls. Then, I feel a tug on my shirt. I look down at the little girl and see my sister standing in front of me; she hasn’t aged a bit and is still a child. She wraps her arms around me smiling, tears rolling down her cheeks. I look up and see a group of people. I recognize my grandmother’s old mailman and the ice cream man who would always give me a free cone when I was little. I also see a missing girl from my old school who had disappeared. She and the others, some of whom I don’t recognize, look at me. They all seem happy, but suddenly, they begin to fade, until they’re gone again.
“Thank you, Amelia,” my sister whispers. She gently squeezes my hand before she fades along with the others.
One month later…
I still hear the screams of The Porcelain in my head. I still see my sister standing in the attic with all of the other victims. I’m glad they are free now, but I don’t think I will ever be able to fully let this experience go. It was so…surreal, and almost too easy. I’m just glad it’s over.
A week after I got rid of The Porcelain, my grandmother passed away, so I came back home. I’ve been trying to get back to normal, but sometimes I have dreams of that night. I can still feel the cold, dry hands around my throat, squeezing the life out of me. I still hear the shrieks ringing through my ears.
I climb out of my bed feeling the soft carpeting under my feet, then go into the bathroom and start brushing my teeth. When I’m done getting dressed, I go downstairs. I have just moved into a new house, so I decide to do a little more unpacking. I look over at my dining room table and see a box sitting on it that I don’t remember putting there the day before. I grab a pair of scissors and slice open the tape. When I open the box, I drop the scissors, they clang on the table. There before me in the box is a porcelain doll. Fear courses through my body, and suddenly, I hear a raspy voice.