This is a new story that was inspired by the desire to do a short, nasty little thing that turned into this, a longer, creepy thing. I REALLY like it. I hope you do to. Fair warning – this is one pass with no edit – so if there are issues they’ll be fixed some day. Probably. I guess.
I have a big family, not a traditional one but a big family just the same, it’s just for me that the family is mostly friends and friends of the family but it works. It worked. I never knew any of my grandparents. Mom’s mom and dad died when she was in college and dad’s father died around the same time, which left my gramma. I never knew my gramma. That was by design. She lived far enough north in Michigan that the people considered themselves more Canadian than American. Dad had left his family to go to college and had never gone back. Dad mentioned having an older brother but I never met him. Dad said he died when he was a baby. No, I never met gramma and only heard enough about her from mom and dad’s late night whispers to know that there was something strange about her. Every month an envelope came to the house from an address in northern Michigan with no name above the address. The envelope smelled strange and felt greasy and every month dad was snatch the envelope off the kitchen counter and take it to the fireplace and burn it. I asked once about it and got the nastiest look he ever gave me, a look that set my ten year old lip to quiver, but he came over and knelt down and gave me a hug and told me it was just some junk mail he wanted to get rid of and that was all. In all the years my parents were alive I never learned a thing about my gramma. It was like she didn’t exist or rather was edited out of existence.
She was a ghost.
Mom and dad died three days before I turned 20. They had left for Bermuda on August first to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary and the last time I heard from them was August third. I got a call on the fifth telling me that my mother and father had contracted a strange disease and were in the hospital getting treatment. They were sedated so I wasn’t able to speak to them but I immediately started looking up plane tickets, figuring I’d use my college fund and figure it out later. Before I had been able to book anything though I got another call from the hospital, this time from the Chief of Staff, telling me that my parents’ conditions had turned grave and they had fallen into comas. I told the woman I would be there within a day, willing to pay whatever it cost to get there, to be with them, but after a very long pause she let out a long breath and told me I wouldn’t be in time.
My parents left on August first to celebrate their anniversary. They returned August 15, after a stint in quarantine, in two sealed bags, their bodies burned and the sum total of their lives reduced to so much ash. I never got an answer as to what happened but there was a lot of speculation in the papers and one reporter claimed it was said to have been the ‘most horrific viral invasion the hospital staff had ever seen’.
I was the sole benefactor of the estate and after the funeral I started trying to piece together some sort of life. I won’t go on and on about it but even at the worst of times they were always there for me. I decided to take a couple semesters off of school and start going through everything in the house. I wasn’t one to cry and I didn’t cry at the joint funeral but it didn’t mean I wasn’t hurting and the only thing that kept that at bay was cleaning. Cleaning also gave me the chance to go through my parents things and donate what I could, keep what I needed, and to let go of the things that were little more than stuff. During the cleaning some friends came to help and my mom’s sisters came into town to help and take some things with them that my mom would have wanted them to have but most of the work I did alone, which was how I wanted it. We had a big house with two floors and a large basement and my parents were pack-rats and I needed the time and the work so I could grieve in my own way.
I rented a dumpster which everyone assured me was way too big but box by box it began to fill up as the small moments in their lives, moments that meant something to them but nothing to me, were donated or thrown away. I hated myself for throwing things away, hated doing it but knew that if I didn’t I’d bury myself beneath the shadow of their memory, never living my own life but wallowing in theirs. I threw so much out but donated as much as I could, even mom’s wedding dress and all of her collectibles. I didn’t want to sell their stuff, that felt dirty, so I found charities to donate things to and that made me feel better about everything and by the time I finally made it to the back part of the basement I felt better and had a better appreciation of who my mom and dad were before they were my parents.
The basement wasn’t as bad as it once had been since my folks lost a lot of things when we had a particularly nasty Spring the year prior and anything of sentimental value that wasn’t on a shelf was flooded into the trash. There were still a few things but most of it was mine so I spent a lot of my time going through my junk and moving things out of the back corners. It took weeks but I was finally done and though I was still sad I felt better about things but that was before I saw the box.
The box was on the bottom shelf of a metal shelving rack that had been in the basement as long as I could remember. There was a shoebox beside the larger box and I pulled that out first and as soon as I touched it the boxed collapsed on itself and I dropped it like it was a living thing. The box must have been down there when the flooding had happened because it was more liquid than solid now. I pulled the remains of the box out with my index finger and saw it was covered in cobwebs but beneath those it looked like photos. I grimaced and pulled the cobwebs out and saw that most of the pictures were very old and ruined, the images blurred and lost and the paper rotten. My curiosity was stronger than my revulsion so I picked the box up carefully and dumped it onto the basement floor in a heap. Everything was lost, they must have been in the water for days and just rotted away. I pushed some of the pictures aside in the vain hope of finding something, anything that might tell me whose photos they were. In the middle of the pile I found one image that was mostly lost, blurred by the water, but it told me what I needed to know. The image was black and white and showed five people standing in front of what looked like a large building, presumably a house. There were two people on either side of a very tall and thin woman whose face was blurred though the rest of her was the only clear thing in the picture, and in her hands was a plain looking box. To the left was someone shorter than the woman at center but I couldn’t make out if it was a man or a woman, their features were blurry except for their hands, which were missing both thumbs and all of the fingers. Next to that person was a little boy. His features were blurred but you could see it was a boy and he was frowning. On the other side of the woman were two children, both very little and holding hands and both identical. One was a boy and one was a girl. The girl was smiling while the boy was frowning like his brother. The male twin was my father. He had never mentioned a sister in all of his years and had made it sound as if his brother had died as a baby but his brother was older than his siblings. I started to sweat and felt my stomach turn. It was dark in this part of the basement and hard to see so I lowered my head to look at the picture more closely. I was desperate to make out the faces of the adults in the image and had lost track of the world around me when suddenly I hear my doorbell and the faint shout from the mail lady that she had dropped the mail off. I had been kneeling there and fell backwards onto my butt as soon as I heard her and could feel my heart racing. I gave one more glance to the picture then stuck it into the pocket of my flannel shirt. The rest of the photos were ruined and the only thing I could make out in any of them was one where someone was holding a box and that was the only thing that could be made out – the box. I felt a shiver run down me and turned my attention to the other item that lay in the darkness of the bottom shelf.
I won’t tell you that the box on the shelf was the same one in either of the pictures, and I won’t tell you that when I went back through all of the photos again and looked at them under the light that you could make out the same box in every photo. Always front and center. I won’t tell you those things because what I believe doesn’t matter, it’s what I can PROVE that matters and I am not sure how much I can prove anymore.
I pulled the box out and while it was damp it was intact and didn’t fall apart and it was very heavy. I lifted the box and it smelled like flowers. I heard something shift inside it and put it on the floor and lifted the lid. My brain didn’t process what was inside for a moment so I tipped my head to the side and reached in and touched what was there and let out a startled shout. I am not sure what I expected to find in the box but I can assure you I didn’t expect dolls. It wasn’t the dolls that sent the spiders down my spine but the feel of them, as if they were real babies with real skin. I dropped the box and the sound echoed through the basement and I was embarrassed immediately. The box had been down here during the flooding so the dolls were just damp, maybe even had some sort of fungus on them, that was all. I let out my breath and bent over the box and smiled at how ridiculous I was- they were dolls. Nothing great, nothing special, just dolls. There were five dolls crammed into the box but crammed as they were they all looked clean, neat, and, as weird as it sounds, loved. I couldn’t be sure but they looked very old. I bent down and the dolls didn’t smell like flowers but like dirt but they were all clean. I ran my hand against the face of the one that lay atop the others and was repulsed but didn’t pull my hand away this time. The doll’s face did feel like skin, uncannily so but it wasn’t from dampness or fungus it was just that the face felt like it was made of skin. I picked the doll up and turned it this way and that in the dim light to examine it. There was a strange light to the doll’s eyes and its body had a weight to it that I didn’t expect. I shook it and it let out a cry like one of those crying babies they make for kids now. I dropped the doll and it let out another sound like a growl. I picked the doll back up, again ashamed at how jumpy I was being, and it felt different – it’s right arm felt weird, like it was loose. I lifted the arm then dropped it, lifted it then dropped it, lifted it and dropped it and it felt like something was broken inside of it. I ran a hand along it and cold sweat broke out all over me because it felt like there was bone beneath the skin. I pushed the sleeve of the little boy doll up and its arm, like the hand and face, felt like real skin. I held the doll aloft and pushed my face in close to its face and saw a crack that ran from the mouth up towards its temple that had not been there before. I took the doll into my left hand and with my right I ran my finger along the crack and felt that it wasn’t a crack but was a tear and I started to pick at it, trying to peel it back and as I picked and picked and picked at it the crack grew in size and width and finally, lost in what I was doing, I pushed two fingers beneath the surface of the crack and tore the hole up along the cheek up to the eye. I peel the doll’s skin back and saw white beneath and I pushed a finger in and ran it against the hard, cool surface beneath. I peeled more of the skin back and saw only white, white, white and with sudden dawning horror everything fell into place and I realized how true skin had been when I thought of the surface of the face that way and that beneath skin there was always…bone.
I dropped the doll back into the box and quickly stood and kicked at the box absently before turning and running for the stairs that lead back upstairs and into the light. I tripped on the last step at the top and went sprawling forward, hitting both shins on the edge and sending waves of pain up my entire body. My heart was racing but I managed to crawl forward enough so that none of me was in the basement any longer and when I looked forward I saw a large envelope laying in front of my on the linoleum floor of the kitchen, nowhere near the front door or the mailbox. And the pain was miles and miles away as I reached forward and felt greasy brown envelope and saw the familiar address at the top and saw that it was addressed to me. I tore the envelope open and was greeted with that mix of flowers and dirt that I had smelled in the basement and I pulled a small piece of paper from inside and quickly read it then read it again.
You found them for me.
Now send them back.
Don’t make us come down there for them.
Gramma wants her babies back.
Don’t make us come.
The paper felt strange so I turned it over and saw that it was part of an itinerary for someone’s flight. I saw the date and destination and then looked over my shoulder into that basement and what lay in that box down there in the dim light.
I mailed the box the next day, though I needed to lie to three friends to get them to come over, thinking I was depressed, to get the courage up to go down in that basement to retrieve it. After it was mailed I burned the photos and the note and its envelope and had a burglar alarm installed. After a month I started to feel at ease. After three months I started to push things out of my mind. After six months I re-enrolled in school and met someone special. It was the seventh month when it came.
There was a knock at the door late at night and I came downstairs and left my ‘guest’ up in bed. I figured I had just heard a phantom knock because the security lights hadn’t come on but I wanted to at least make sure that the doors were locked. I looked around downstairs and saw nothing by the door and was about to head back upstairs when I heard the knock again from the back of the house where the kitchen was. I felt sweat break out all over and I grabbed my high school hockey stick from off the wall and slowly made my way into the kitchen. The kitchen light was off and so was the security light outside and I flailed for the light and when I saw what was on the kitchen floor I let out a scream. There was a familiar box sitting on the floor and on top of it was a note written on familiarly torn paper that I knew would have flight information for a flight in August to Bermuda. I walked over to the box and looked down at the note.
This one is broken.
You broke it, now it’s yours.
We’ll be coming for a replacement.
That happened five months ago.
I don’t sleep anymore. My friends, my ‘guest’, and my inheritance are all gone. I have food delivered from a local market. I wash myself and go to the bathroom in the kitchen sink. I don’t do anything but sit and wait with two guns in my lap and a can of gasoline between my feet, waiting to see when she’ll come and praying I can get the match lit and send that witch to Hell before she gets her replacement.
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