(Not many short's left until Halloween or should I say Samhain--that'll be a fun one to write. Today's was based on the dreaded trip to grandma's or auntie's house. You know the one, the one with the creepy collectibles and the dusty moldy room and creaking floorboards and...gulp...shapes in the darkness of an unfamiliar room.)
Desiree didn’t want to complain when her elderly aunt was kind enough to let her use her unrented property. After all, a newly separated woman didn’t always get the best options when it came to rentals. There was the option of moving in with her younger cousins who partied and lived across town from her work, sharing a place with a newly widowed older woman looking for someone young to help “protect” her from “rapist burglars,” or she could stay at home with Ian as he tried to sell their home and that was just not an option. His anger towards her was bizarre, especially considering he’s the one who called for the separation. He wanted to have his wife and other women. He wanted her to like that concept. Hell, he wanted her to swing with him and another couple. Apparently, he’d made some promises to people and was angered she wouldn’t provide his part of the promise.
Disgusted with the turn her life had taken, Desiree sat down on the bed. Her aunt had decorated the rental cottage near the main street probably 30 years ago. It was an historic little bungalow done up in just about every old-lady fancy that was possible. Her aunt actually enjoyed the single elderly lifestyle in the assisted living facility across the street. She'd moved in following a stroke and wanted to come back home once she was walking and talking well, but they realized she was too senile to live on her own. Still wanting independence, she kept the little cottage. Desiree hoped she could learn that kind of independence. Right now, she was feeling pretty damned vulnerable and alone.
There were a line of ceramic cats along the windowsill in the master bedroom. A large coat rack sat next to the door with antique clothing, hats, and umbrellas hanging from it. The shelving above the dresser houses loads of Hummel statues of little cherubic children. A giant toddler-sized fancy baby doll in a ruffly dress was poised in the rocking chair nearby. If that wasn’t enough, there was a doily under everything in the room and a half inch of dust. She sneezed as she slipped out of her clothes and prepared for her first night sleeping alone in the past six years.
She rolled down the shades on the windows and realized without curtains, a bit of street light came into the room, casting everything in enough light to see shapes and not enough light to tell what those shapes were.
Inside the closet she found a spare blanket and used it to cover the window near the bed. There was no help for the window further down the wall. Still, it did offer her less light on her face, so she settled for that and tucked into the well worn sheets.
Admittedly, the room was lumpy and bumpy and creeping with shadows and faint hazy glow. A Parisian poster on the wall with a lady and her parasol looked like a vampire, his cape extended above him as he descended. She knew what the picture was, but Desiree couldn’t stop staring at the shape she’d made of it. She could no longer see the woman but could only see the vampire. Squinting and trying hard to recall the woman and the umbrella, she gave up and squeezed her eyes shut.
Unable to get comfortable on the overly soft bed, Desiree turned over and studied the blanket on the window. It had a pattern on it. It looked like writhing snakes, actually. With the bit of light coming through the roller shade behind it, the dark squiggly lines showed in contrast. Groggy but still awake, she saw the squiggles move. They undulated like snakes on a hot desert floor. Cringing, Desiree turned back over again, now facing the Hummel statues on the wall. She closed her eyes and tossed the blanket over her head.
It was completely illogical, but she just knew there were things moving within the room while she cowered beneath the blanket like a scared child. Of course, it wasn’t possible, but she was drawn to look again like a person passing an accident on the road and needing to see the conclusion.
Her eyes focused on the rows of little statues. The light from the other window beamed across the face of one cherubic child’s face. The eye and mouth seemed distorted into some kind of one-eye monster frowning at her. Desiree scooted further back on the bed, but the eye seemed to follow her. She closed her eyes and opened them again and still it watched her quite directly.
A loud thud outside unsettled her. She listened cautiously, holding her breath to see if it happened again. She heard raucous laughter of bar goers stumbling down the alley to their home.
The bedroom door swung shut, clicking gently into place.
Desiree sat up, clutching the sheet to her breasts in fear. She screamed out when she saw the dark human shape beside the doorway. Quaking, she watched, waiting for it to move. Her hand jumped wildly, nearly knocking over the lamp as she turned it on. The room awash in the soft light, she swung to look at the door. The coat rack with the clothing and hats to the right of remained the same. The door, however, was definitely closed.
Heart pounding, she got up and crept to the doorway, unsure whether she should lock the door or open it and look out. When the heat from the vent blew over her, Desiree turned and stared at the register on the wall. She held up her hand and realized that when it turned on, it shut the door that was already partially closed. She laughed at her ridiculous hysteria and opened the door all the way. Looking into the dark hallway, she felt vulnerable. If she was going to sleep the night through, she needed the door locked.
Desiree clicked the lock and stepped back, then wondering if being locked in there meant not knowing what was going on. This was an active street for people going back and forth to the hip clubs and cafes along Main Street. The sound of laughter in the alley reminded Desiree that she was not truly alone. Should anything happen, she was close to lots of people who could hear her screams.
Making a firm decision, Desiree pivoted on her toes and stopped short when she saw the doll in the chair. It was so large, it looked like a real child. Its hands held the arm rests. The ruffles of the dress fluttered from the heater blowing warm air over it.
Strangely, the one thing in the room that most looked like a real person was the least frightening. Somehow, knowing it was a doll and should look a person made it less threatening. Crazy, but the blanket on the window bothered her the most. Desiree yanked it down and climbed into the bed.
Now there was even more faint light to outline every shape. The heater continued to blow the clothing on the hat rack, making it dance back and forth. The movements began to take on a rhythm that looked like a dance. Desiree could see the shoulders rising and falling, the hands flapping at its sides, the hat tilting left and right. It rattled lightly, making a sound that added to the living effect.
With a growl of anger, she jumped up, unlocked the door, turned on the hall light, and flicked off the heater. She’d rather freeze than watch that movement one more minute.
Of course, if your eyes were closed as they should be, you wouldn’t be seeing it.
Dancing on her chilly feet, Desiree dove back into the bed. The sheets were cold from being out of it so long. She shivered and rubbed her legs against the sheets to make a warm spot, draping the blanket over her head.
By some miracle, she fell into a deep dreamless sleep within minutes. She had obviously worn herself out, at least that’s what she assumed when she woke up during the night to turn over. The room was chilly, but she was pleasantly groggy as she found a comfortable dip in the mattress to situate herself. Her body relaxed and cocooned in a happy place, her mind drifted back into the sleep state, desperate for much-needed sleep.
A tug at the blanket pulled it from her feet and Desiree yanked it back up. Again, it pulled back and her feet were exposed. She pulled her toes up under the blanket.
“Stop it Ian!” She snapped in a sleep-drunken voice, pulling the blanket up and flipping over. She felt him shift beside her and she moved further away.
Hours of deep sleep later, Desiree awakened. She took in the bright light of the room bit by bit, blinking against the sunlight going through the shades as if they weren’t even there. She opened her eyes, staring at the Hummel children.
“You!” She snarled playfully and laughed. “Little ceramic figurines. That’s all you are.” She smiled as she got up and turned the one who looked one-eyed at night so that it would face away from her. She went to the coat rack and removed the clothing, tossing it on a nearby chair. Walking around the bed, Desiree lifted up the blanket with the snake-like shapes and snapped it out, folding it up neatly. Today, she would get real curtains so she couldn’t see any shapes.
What a big baby!
Laughing at her childish behavior the night before, Desiree picked up her robe. The tie of it was draped over the doll’s chair. She leaned down to unwind it from the arm rest when she realized the chair was empty. Studying the floor with a rising panic, Desiree got to her knees and looked under the bed. Had she gotten up during the night and moved it? She didn’t remember doing it. Trying hard to recall the night, she remembered her feet being cold and wrestling with the blanket to cover them. She had…complained to Ian?
Bile rising in her throat, Desiree turned to the bed. The lump from the blanket when she’d thrown it off remained. But what was under it?
Hand trembling, she reached for the blanket, cautiously grasping the edge and tugging. It slipped past the edge of the pillow and then caught on something. Gasping, she held her breath and yanked it past.
The doll turned with the blanket so now it faced her, lifeless eyes staring up at her, head resting on the pillow, blanket tucked around her body.
Desiree raced to the door, unlocking it in a rush. Clanking in the kitchen startled her even more and she whimpered as she approached, certain it was yet another animated object.
She saw the back of her aunt, her white head bent as she cleaned dishes.
“Oh dear.” Her aunt smiled up at her. “I thought I’d give you a hand here. You didn’t turn on the heater last night, dear. I turned it on for you when I came this morning.”
She handed Desiree a wet glass with a trembling hand and then a dish rag. Desiree began to dry it mechanically.
The elderly woman with a delightfully demented personality tilted her head and examined Desiree’s face. “Oh my. It got too cold last night, didn’t it?”
“It was cold.” She admitted, teeth chattering in spite of the growing warmth.
“You have to keep it warm enough, or else Rachel will steal your blanket.”
“Rachel?” Rachel's throat went dry.
The sweet old lady looked up at her with milky blue eyes. “Rachel, the doll, honey. She hates the cold.” She beamed.