This story is about a haunted doll. (Do you think my kids own a “My Size Barbie”? Not a chance.) This particular doll was about the size and weight of a young toddler, and it’s name was William. My grandmother bought William at a flea market in the mid 1970s. He (it, whatever) was dirty, naked, and torn–but she saw something about him that she liked, so she bought him anyway. She brought the doll home, cleaned it up, bought toddler-sized clothes for it to wear, named it, and sat it in the rocker in her parlor.
Once or twice a year Grandmother would buy William a new outfit to wear and give him another good cleaning, then back in the rocker he would go. William sat there for years. William always scared me when I was a kid. Not only did I have the aforementioned mannequin phobia to deal with, but William himself was strange-looking. He was a very lifelike doll, but on his face he wore an expression that struck me as much too aware and knowing to belong to a child of the age William was supposed to be. Rather than as a toy child, I regarded William as an adult in miniature, and not a particularly nice adult at that. To me, when I was ten, William looked like he knew where I slept, and wanted me to know that he knew.
If garlic had been a deterrent for dolls instead of vampires, my room would have smelled like a pizza. But William never visited me while I was growing up, and he never gave any indication that he was anything other than a big doll with a strange expression. Until my grandmother passed away, and William went to live with my Aunt Lorraine and Uncle Nelson. Lorraine’s kids, Michelle and David, were 11 and 9 respectively, just about the age I had been when I first encountered William, and their reaction to him was remarkably similar. He made them nervous. Their mother had propped up William on a wing back chair in the living room, and both kids told me that it was eerie to get up at night to use the bathroom and find William dimly illuminated by the hall light, seeming to watch their comings and goings. From his seat, they said, William could clearly see the doors to both their rooms–doors they began keeping closed at night so William couldn’t watch them sleeping. “Even with the door closed,” Michelle remembered recently, “It was like I could feel him staring at me, waiting for me to come out.” Eventually, William stopped waiting.
One night, David got up to a sleeping house for a trip to the bathroom, and was surprised to find that William wasn’t in his usual spot. David was the younger of the two children, but also the more level-headed. He decided that his mother must have moved the doll after he had gone to bed, maybe to clean it up or dress it in a new set of clothes, as my grandmother had done. He finished in the bathroom and returned to bed, neglecting to shut his door. And as he tucked himself back in, his sleepy eyes widened in alarm. There, back in his usual spot, was William. David leapt from his bed and quickly closed and locked his bedroom door. “I didn’t know where William had been,” he said, “but I sure didn’t want him in my room.” A few nights later, Michelle awoke to take a trip to the bathroom. Casting a wary eye at William, she found him in his usual spot on the chair. On entering the bathroom, she noticed that the toilet paper roll was empty, so she returned to the hall where a new package was in the linen closet just outside the bathroom.
Once back in the hall, she yelped in alarm. William was crumpled on the floor, about 4 feet in front of his chair. “To me,” she said, “it looked like William had climbed down and headed for the open door of my room, but stopped when I came out of the bathroom.” Michelle ran back into her room and huddled in her bed. The bathroom would wait until morning. She fell into a fitful sleep, and woke early with the sun just beginning to stream in through her window. Her need for the bathroom was urgent now, so she hurriedly unlocked and opened her door. And screamed, rousing the rest of her family from their beds, because when she pulled open her door, William fell into the room. He had apparently been leaning against the door, waiting for it to open.
Lorraine and Nelson hadn’t been oblivious to the goings-on. They couldn’t help but notice that their kids had suddenly started locking their doors at night. But they had attributed that to the kids’ increasing desire for privacy and the impending rush of puberty. Neither David nor Michelle had mentioned to them their experiences with William. And even though Lorraine had already begun to feel a certain unease about the doll, she never made the connection until the morning Michelle woke her with a scream. But Lorraine had noticed William’s inexplicable refusal to stay put weeks earlier. Nearly every day, she would have to put William back in his chair at least once, and often several times. She had no idea how the doll could keep tumbling out of the big chair. She wasn’t able to knock the doll down without applying enough force to actually fling him from the chair, so she saw no way for him to simply fall out. But fall out he seemed to do. Over and over again. One afternoon, a few days before Michelle’s morning scream, Lorraine hadn’t been feeling well and so laid down for a brief afternoon nap. She awakened an hour or so later to find William in bed beside her. She was initially quite spooked, but soon deduced that one of the kids–who had come home from school while she slept–had placed the doll there as a joke.
It was only later that she decided otherwise. The day Michelle had her morning encounter with William, Nelson put the doll in the attic. He believed none of what the kids were saying, but agreed to hide the doll away to mollify them, for they were genuinely afraid. He told the story to my mother a few weeks later, and she told him that she’d like to have the doll if Nelson and Lorraine weren’t planning to keep it around. Nelson agreed, and went to the attic to get it for her. And was unable to find it. Nelson tore the attic apart, but William was gone. That was nearly ten years ago, and William hasn’t turned up again since.
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