She sat upright in her wooden chair. Black curls rested flawlessly over her shoulders, contrasting picture-perfectly against the cream-colored dress and her porcelain skin. Her blue glass eyes were two glossy globes staring into an oblivion. They didn’t look at me; they looked past me. Sometimes I felt as though she were looking through me…
Mom always loved Claire. The moment she spotted the doll at a yard sell a year ago, she fell absolutely in love with her. “Oh, Jan, isn’t she gorgeous?” she had exclaimed, picking it up as if it were a newborn infant. My only response was a dry shrug. It was just a doll. A creepy, antique, morbid doll.
I vividly remember the seller practically giving Mom the doll when she had inquired a price. “I’ll take whatever ya got,” the old man had said, spitting a chunk of chewed tobacco into a Coke bottle. “She’s old, and frankly, I’m sick o’ lookin’ at her. Hell, I’ll even take a quarter.” After exchanging 25 cents for the porcelain thing, Mom happily took her home.
Between Mom and Claire, I couldn’t decide who had freaked me out the most. Mom treated her like a spoiled toddler. She constantly brushed her hair and cuddled with her. Hell, she even talked to the damn doll.
I hated Claire. And it took Mom a whole year to understand just why. Within two weeks of the doll being in our home, I began having nightmares. Not of the doll, but of someone – something – chasing me. I had mentioned them to Mom, but she thought I was overreacting. “Jan, it’s just a doll.” Just a doll, I had thought. Oh, the irony…
Following the nightmares, I constantly felt like I was being watched. Of course, I tried convincing myself that maybe I was just paranoid. But every time I would pass by Claire, I could feel her cold, lifeless stare following every step.
“You’ve got to stop worrying about Claire so much, Jan. Afterall, we’re both witches, for crying out loud! If something were wrong with Claire, don’t you think I could sense it?”
She’d had a point. As witches, we had a sixth sense. But I was not letting my guard down. No sir.
After a year, Mom started acting differently. She had been very irritable and very hostile. One afternoon, I came home from school to find Mom searching the house, cursing under her breath. When I asked her what was wrong, she spun around, and the face I looked at was not her. Her skin was pale, her eyes had dark circles underneath, and her voice carried a sinister growl. “Where is she, Jan?” she shouted.
“Where is who, Mom?” I asked, frightened at whatever was taking over my mother.
“My damn doll, Jan. Where is Claire? I know you’ve done something with her, now tell me, you little monster! Where is Claire!?”
“I haven’t touched your doll, Mom.”
Infuriated, she clutched my shoulders, maniacally shaking me. “Tell me where she is, dammit!” Her breath hit me with a sour odor with every jolt, and I could feel her nails digging painfully into my skin. Knocking her back, I fought back a scream, but tears managed to escape my eyes. For the first time in my seventeen years of life, I was terrified of my mother.
Assuming she saw the fear in my eyes, she collected herself, cupping her mouth with a gasp. “Jan, honey, I’m so sorry.” Unsure what to say next, I abruptly ran into the “safety” of my bedroom. When I opened my bedroom door, there she was. Claire was sitting in her wooden chair – the chair I had not taken to my room. I could’ve sworn I saw the damn thing smirking at me, as if to say, she’s our mom now. I plucked Claire from her seat by the back of her dress and carried her into the living room, where Mom was still scavenging.
“Here’s your damn doll!” I said, tossing it onto the couch with a thud. Like a mother rushing to her crying baby, Mom rushed to the doll, scooping it up and cradling it like a dying kitten.
“Mommy’s here, Claire. It’s okay. Don’t scare me like that!”
I could see nothing but madness on her face. I wasn’t only scared of her. I was scared for her. Whatever entity was dwelling inside this porcelain freak was taking over my mom. There was nothing logical I could do about this. I knew the only answer was magic.
That night, I waited until Mom was asleep before I began my ritual. I tiptoed into her bedroom and cut a small lock of her black hair, and I did the same to Claire, who had been enveloped by Mom’s arms like a small child with her teddy bear. Glaring at the doll, I whispered, “Enjoy your last night with her, you little bitch.” I could feel a wave of anger from the glass stare as I left the room.
I sat cross-legged on the beige carpet of my bedroom and lit a black candle. Opening my book of shadows, I flipped the pages to a bond-breaking spell. As I began to throw the doll’s hair into the flame, it wouldn’t burn. Why in the hell wouldn’t it burn? I waited, but it remained intact. I could smell the hair burning, but that was all. Goosebumps arose over my arms, and I could feel Claire’s eyes on me. Looking over my shoulder, I watched my closed door, expecting the doll to burst it open… But the door remained shut. I even listened for footsteps, but there was nothing. She knew what I was doing… And she was not going to let me carry through. I knew what I had to do at this point. My only option was to call Grandma. She was the oldest witch alive in our family, and she’d had experiences with dark entities before. I grabbed my cell phone off the cherrywood nightstand and dialed her number. I listened for the chimes indicating my call was going through, but all I heard was static. I hung up and dialed the number again, and this time, I heard Grandma’s voice, but it was fading in and out. “Grandma?” I said, but I only heard every other word.
“Jan? Is…you?… Jan…what’s go…on?…Can…hear…e…?…lo…”
I kept calling out to her, but she could not hear me. Static overtook Grandma’s voice, and suddenly, I heard something that sounded like a child’s laughter. The damn thing had gotten into my phone somehow. Frightened, I threw the phone across the room, and it collided against the wall. I didn’t even care if my screen was potentially cracked, or even shattered. I had no hope at all inside this house…
The next day, I skipped school to visit Grandma myself. On the walk, I could feel Claire watching me. Although Mom thought I would be sitting in Mr. Brown’s history class, Claire knew exactly where I was. Her eldritch presence followed me. But I knew I would be safe as soon as I made it to Grandma’s.
A chilly wind crept up my spine, and leaves began to fall at once from their overhanging branches. I tightened my purple jacket about myself and tugged at the shoulder straps of my backpack, whispering an incantation under my breath. Darkness that follows, return to your hollows. You will not take me, for I forsake thee. I repeated the incantation over and over. Turning onto Sparrow Street, I began to run, impatient to reach Grandma’s door that was merely three more houses away. I began to see red eyes lurking from within the windows of the houses I was passing by. Demonic whispers rang in my ears, taunting me with each step. The whole world seemed to be spinning.
The driveway appeared to be ten miles long as I darted toward the red door of 215 Sparrow Street. Once I finally reached it, I ran inside, neglecting to knock. “Grandma!”
“Jan, honey, is that you?” I heard Grandma’s voice calling from the kitchen. She emerged from the doorway, still drying a plate with a dish towel. Her sweet vanilla perfume reached me, and I felt safer than I had in what seemed like an eternity. A lump formed in my throat, and tears streamed down my cheeks. I rushed to her, throwing my arms around her, allowing myself to sink into her loving, maternal embrace. “Jan, sweetie, what’s the matter? Was that you that called me last night?”
“Grandma, it’s Mom,” I began, fighting through jerking sobs.
“What’s wrong with your mother? Is she all right?”
I wiped my moist eyes against her pink sleeve and began to tell her about Claire and my mother’s crazed obsession with the doll. Then, I explained to her my failed attempt to break their bond the night before. “I don’t know what to do anymore, Grandma. It’s like she’s being possessed by the doll.”
“Dolls can’t possess people, Jan. But something may be bound to the doll, or even trapped within it.” She led me into her kitchen and directed me to take a seat at the small table. She brewed us a pot of tea, and she took her place across the table from me, setting my teacup in front of me on the lacy tablecloth. I had no interest in the tea at all. While she sipped on her beverage, I chewed on my thumbnail. “When did all this begin, honey?”
“Mom bought the doll a year ago at some yard sale. It wasn’t long before she started affecting me. I was having nightmares, and then soon, I could feel her watching me.”
“Whatever is in that doll, it’s dwelling on magic. That’s why it tried to attach itself to you first, but your mother seems to be more vulnerable since she took such a liking to the doll.”
“Why couldn’t I break their bond last night?”
“Seems to me like she’s absorbed so much of your mother’s magic that she’s able to fight off yours.” Pushing up her thinly rimmed glasses, she took another sip of her tea. “It’s been years since I’ve dealt with something like this…” she said, staring at the rim of her teacup. I could see her memories haunting her like a swarm of invisible ghosts swirling about her head. She pressed her red-stained lips into a thin line.
“Grandma?” I asked, drawing her back from her own mind.
“It’s not going to be easy. We have to get, uh…”
“Yeah. That thing away from your mother. We could either burn her or bind her to something else. Then burn whatever she’s bound to.”
I was completely dumbfounded by her solution. How could that do any good? “Burning certainly didn’t work last night.”
“Maybe not with your efforts alone. But if we both perform the ritual, our magic may be strong enough to separate her from your mother.”
Finally, Grandma’s words were making sense. Grandma rose from the table and disappeared down the hallway. A few seconds later, she returned with a wooden spoon with some sigil engraved into it.
“It’s simple, but it won’t be easy, Jan. That’s why you will not be doing this alone.”
“A spoon, Grandma? All this time, I could’ve just used a spoon?”
She laughed. “This is not just a spoon, sweetheart. This has been blessed with my own magic. This sigil represents purity and protection.” She offered me the utensil with an outstretched arm, and I took it into my own hand, examining the engraving: a symbol that looked like a drop of water. “When the spirit is bound to this, any evil it has accumulated overtime will be cleansed, and it can move on. But as I said before, it won’t be easy. You must understand this. In order to begin the ritual, we have to break the bond between the doll and your mother.”
My stomach sank.
We waisted no time leaving her house to return to my own home. The walk home felt much more secure with Grandma to protect me. However, she could feel the same evil that had followed me before. We both muttered incantations to ward off whatever was traveling with us. Eventually, we made it home in one piece.
Grandma followed me into the house while I searched for Mom. I found her in her bedroom rocking back and forth in her rocking chair with Claire in her lap, watching me with those damn eyes. Mom looked deathly-ill. Her face had lost almost all of its pigment, and her cheekbones were protruding through her now thin flesh. Her teeth were coated with brown plaque, and her eyes were stained yellow. “Hello, Mother. Jan,” she greeted hoarsely, her glare stabbing through my soul.
“Hi, Norma. Jan tells me there’s a problem with that, uh, doll you have there.”
“Oh, does she, now?” she growled. “Does she tell you that she wants me to get rid of Claire? My baby?”
“Norma, that thing is not your baby,” Grandma said calmly. “This is your baby,” she continued, gesturing to me, concealing her spoon within her dress.
“That little bitch is just jealous. Claire is innocent. She loves me.” Although I knew that wasn’t really my mom shouting those harsh words, they still stung me, and tears burned in the back of my eyes.
Grandma took a diagonal step forward, holding her arm protectively in front of me, as if shielding me. “Norma, this is your daughter!”
“That thing is not my daughter. Claire is.” Then, Mom leaned her ear to the doll’s mouth. “Huh? What’s that?” A lump of anxiety formed in the depths of my throat, and I swallowed hard. Mom ran her fingers through Claire’s hair, nodding with each whisper that only she could hear. “If you say so, sweetheart…” She wrapped her arm tightly around the doll and retrieved a kitchen knife that had been tucked between the cushion and the wooden frame of the rocking chair. Her lips curled into an eerie, haunting smile, and her eyes seemed to glow. She arose slowly, her eyes fixed on me. It felt as though I were shrinking, and she was growing larger even faster. She gently placed Claire on the bottom cushion of the rocking chair, and stood still, as if she were waiting for me to make my first move. The smile grew wider, and her eyes were now piercing through my very flesh, and my heart pounded.
“Shut up, you old hag!” Mom shouted in an otherworldly voice. It sounded like a deep growl had been blended with a screech from a banshee. Then, Grandma took a step forward, and within the blink of an eye, Mom had crossed the room with quick, inhumanly quick, steps. Her hands reached out like claws, and they clutched Grandma’s arms, yanking her onto the ground.
I darted from the doorway and tumbled onto her bed, rolling over to the other side, mere feet away from the doll. Suddenly, I heard a monstrous hiss, and I felt her razor-sharp fingernails digging into the exposed skin of my ankles under my jeans. With all my might, I tugged on the bedpost, fighting as best I could to escape her grasp. Then the worst pain I had ever felt in my life stabbed throughout my leg as Mom sank the kitchen knife into the side of my thigh. All I could do was scream. I squirmed and kicked and pleaded, but this only earned a roaring laugh from her. My strength abandoned me for a brief moment, then she had me. Mom flipped me over and straddled my waist, raising the knife above her head, preparing to plunge the weapon into my chest. I closed my eyes and winced. I knew it was over.
“Norma!” Grandma shouted from the rocking chair, holding Claire by her black curls. Mom turned around, and her jaw dropped. She dropped the knife onto the bed and released me, going for the doll. Before she made it to the rocking chair, Grandma pounded the doll’s porcelain face against the arm of the chair, shattering that precious face into pieces.
“No!!!” Mom screamed, dropping to her knees and picking up each piece of the doll’s face. With the broken pieces still in her hand, she clenched her fists, cutting her own flesh, and tiny shards of the porcelain and blood fell from her hands. After only a few seconds of sobbing, Mom silenced her grief, and her sinister eyes met mine. She arose and reached for the knife that was beside me. Before her clawed fingers could reach it, I snatched it away. I was not yet successful, though. After I managed to get the knife away from her, her alternative move was wrapping her hand tightly around my neck. Fighting through coughs and desperate gasps for air, I saw no escape. The room began to grow dark, and I could feel myself losing consciousness.
Suddenly, my neck was released after a loud shatter. Grandma had broken a lamp over Mom’s head, knocking her out. Mom was laid still on the floor, the doll’s broken face was all over the carpet, and blood continued to drain from the open would on my leg, staining Mom’s bed covers.
“Jan, we don’t have much time. Grab a sheet and follow me to your room.” As I ripped the sheet off Mom’s bed, Grandma collected the remains of the doll, and I limped as quickly as I could behind her across the hall into my bedroom. “Wrap that around your leg snugly,” she said, motioning to the sheet. I followed her directions, then I grabbed my book of shadows and my black candle. Grandma used an incense stick to cleanse a piece of the doll’s hair, and she threw it into the flame. I still had Mom’s hair from the night before, and I handed it to Grandma. She continued the spell, burning both locks of hair. She began to rotate her spoon around the flame counterclockwise demanding that their bond be broken.
Our next step was to bind the spirit within the doll to the spoon. Grandma took one of the doll’s eyes and tied it to the scoop end of the utensil with a black ribbon. She had been explaining to me that black was the best choice since that color corresponded with banishing negative energies. Once the knot was tied, she began chanting.
“Spirit who dwells within this eye, you must now say goodbye. Out of this realm you will be soon. Out of the doll, and into this spoon!”
Grandma and I repeated the spell three times, both our hands around the spoon and eye. I followed her lead as she began shaking them rhythmically. We closed our eyes, focusing on our intention, and I could feel the spirit’s rage as it tried to fight us. I heard the sound of my books falling from my shelf, crashing onto the floor, and I could feel the floor trembling beneath me. Grandma could sense my tension, and she reminded me to be strong and concentrate.
Suddenly, my mom’s face appeared in my mind’s eye. Not the deranged monster who had just attempted to kill me. Mom. The woman who loved me unconditionally. The woman who was always there for me. The woman who loved me more than this demonic doll. Her bright green eyes and her rosy-pink cheeks that radiated a motherly glow from her sweet, warm smile. I found peace with the image, and I held on to it. I was going to save my mother, and I was going to get rid of this spirit once and for all.
I chanted Grandma’s spell one last time at the top of my lungs, squeezing my eyelids together so tightly, they hurt.
“Spirit who dwells within this eye, you must now say goodbye! Out of this realm you will be soon! Out of the doll, and into this spoon!”
A loud thud echoed throughout the room, and a calmness followed. I could still feel its presence, but it was very faint. Placing my palm over the spoon, I could feel the spirit’s energy vibrating through the wood. “It worked,” Grandma said, half smiling. I winced as I scooted across the carpet, and I threw my arms around her, crying with relief. “Oh, we’re not finished quite yet.”
“I know. Now we burn this damn thing!”
Grandma helped me to my feet, and I shifted my weight onto my good leg, and we progressed to the living room. We approached the brick fireplace, and I threw the spoon into its pit. With a strike of a match, Grandma nodded. She added the lighted match to the pit, setting the spoon into a burst of flames. At first, the fire was a normal red-orange color, but after a moment, the flame burned green and blue. This only lasted about two minutes. After the fire returned to its original color, it quickly went out, leaving nothing but a pile of ash.
I stared at the remains, satisfied. I no longer felt the haunting presence. I felt no eyes watching me anymore. I was fearless and at peace once more. Most of all, I felt safe.
Footsteps joined us in the living room, followed by, “Jan? Mom?” I spun around and saw the image I had seen in my bedroom. Only this time, it was more than just a picture from my memory. It was Mom. My mom.