We had a list of things we wanted in a house: two bathrooms, a galley kitchen, a large backyard for the animals we hoped to own someday. We wanted to be close to parks and far from bars, somewhere quiet and reserved, a grown-up house where we could, slowly, move away from the things that had defined our early to mid-twenties: late nights, ounces of weed in small glass jars, and vomit in the bushes of our apartment complex. We agreed on all of these things, but there was a further request that my husband made.
He wanted the house to have history.
“History?” I frowned. “What does that mean?” We were at home, in our small apartment. He was drinking whiskey and standing by the window. I sat on the couch, holding a paperback. My other hand rested on my belly. It was where my hands went then, unconsciously drifting there at all hours, as if cognizant of my own emptiness. Our living room smelled like sandalwood.
“I don’t know,” he said, and shrugged. “Maybe like a secret room in the basement or something. I just think it would be cool.” He took a sip of whiskey and kept looking out the window, like his eyes were drawn away from me by magnets.
Up until now, the list of things my husband had considered cool included early-90’s Japanese cartoons, mountain biking, and the complete works of Marcel Proust. What I’m trying to say is that I’d seen his stranger interests at this point. But still, that request for history. There were things in our past we’d agreed to leave behind – the time I spilled cider on his original edition of Middlemarch or the moment, six months into our relationship, where he called me by his mother’s name as he came. There was something else too, a piece of us buried so deep we didn’t want to talk about it. That was our history too.
But history in a house felt like a harmless request. What did history look like, anyway? Exposed brickwork, a plaque on the front lawn, old rickety stairs that creaked when you walked up them? All of these were things I could live with.
What the house had, however, was not any of these things.
When I mentioned my husband’s request to our relator, she didn’t say anything at first. I rushed to fill the silence. “I know,” I said, “it’s a silly thing. Not a big deal, honestly. The other stuff’s more important.”
I expected her to agree with me, to brush it off as I had. Instead, she cleared her throat and said, “what kind of history?”
The house on Perry Street checked all of our boxes. There were two bathrooms, each one recently remodeled, and a large yard with a raised concrete porch, which my husband measured for a barbeque as the relator and I spoke. The neighbors were sufficiently old and mature. The house next door had a minivan parked in the driveway. Three doors down, there was a basketball hoop. There was even a large brick fireplace in the living room, which I noticed my husband noticing as we walked through.
“It’s nice,” I said. He grunted in response.
The relator, a short motherly woman with dark brown hair, opened and closed blinds, talked about garbage collection, and emphasized the lack of an HOA. When we were done touring the house, the three of us gathered in front of the fireplace. The realtor had one more thing to show us. There was a basement.
It was rough around the edges. Concrete floors and walls, a deep earthy chill to the air, unused boards piled in the corner, a doll in a white dress perched on the narrow rectangular windowsill – the kind of place we could really finish and make our own.
“Wait,” my husband said, “is that a doll on the windowsill?”
It was. An old-fashioned, almost Victorian-style, doll with big glassy blue eyes and a white lace dress. Her blonde hair curled in ringlets. She was almost a foot tall.
“Huh,” I said. It seemed like the appropriate thing to say. My husband and I carefully looked at each other. Back then, we were always careful, as though we were fragile in some way.
“That,” the relator said, “is Eloise. She’s part of the history. She’s what you wanted.”
“This is definitely not what I wanted,” my husband said.
I laid my hand on his shoulder. “Now hold on,” I said, “let’s hear her out.”
It was a package deal, the relator explained, after she walked us back upstairs. The doll – Eloise – came with the house. All we had to do was take care of her. The three of us stood in the living room.
“Take care of her?” My husband bit his lip. He paced back and forth, his boots clacking against the hardwood. “What does that mean?”
“It’s a simple process,” the realtor said with a smile. “I have some pamphlets.” She took a thick white envelope from her purse and offered it to us. My husband took it, pulled one pamphlet out, and then handed it to me.
I looked over the rest. They were glossy, professionally made, with bright infographics and informative articles with titles like “Proper Haunting Encouragement” and “Shatter-Proof Plates and YOU.” One article asked us to remember that knocking pictures off walls, inverting crosses, and leaving claw marks in wallpaper is natural haunted doll behavior and should be managed in a way that is healthy for both you and you doll!
My husband read aloud. “’Responsible haunted doll ownership means acknowledging your doll’s need for interaction and play time!’” He cleared his throat and looked at the realtor. “Is this a joke?”
She shook her head.
“This is some weird shit,” he said. He paused in front of the fireplace and crossed his arms, the pamphlet crumpled in his fist.
I leafed through the remaining brochures from the envelope. “The house is good though,” I said, not looking at him.
My husband turned to the realtor. “So, we just have to take care of her? What’s that look like? A display case or something?”
“It’s important that she feels cherished.”
“Are you nuts?”
I walked over to my husband and set my hand on his shoulder. He took a long, deep breath, and exhaled. “We’ll talk about it,” he said.
That night, we sat on the couch in our apartment, one cushion of space between us, and did just that. We agreed that it was, after all, a good house and we should take it. But there was one thing we didn’t agree on. Eloise. Or, as my husband called her, that weird fucking doll.
“I don’t know about that weird fucking doll,” he said.
“I think we can take care of her,” I said. “It doesn’t feel like too much work. We can just put her in a hutch somewhere and clean her every now and then.” He was shaking his head before I finished.
“It’s just junk,” he said. “That woman’s off her rocker. Let’s just forget about it.”
“It wouldn’t be all that much trouble.”
He shook his head again. “No,” he said, “I don’t want to think about it. We should move on.” He wasn’t just talking about the doll.
It was a miscarriage. About six months before we found this house, I woke up one morning with cramps in my gut and blood between my thighs. In my groggy state, I forgot I was pregnant. I assumed it was my period starting, until I ran a hand down my belly and brushed against the swell there. I was three months along. We went to the hospital. The doctor was kind and spoke softly, as if he was afraid of startling me. He explained that they had to remove what was left. I lay down on a table. They gave me anesthetic and set up a screen so I couldn’t see. Still, I thought I could feel the dull sensation of a hand reaching up inside of me, stretching deeper and deeper into my body, beyond the walls of my uterus, and pulling not just what remained of our child out, but something else too.
What was one more thing to forget about, one more thing to bury? I didn’t believe the realtor, necessarily. A haunted doll? Come on. But it was history. Wasn’t that what he had wanted? I wanted to listen to him, understand him. I was sure he wanted to do the same to me. “Let’s do that then.”
“Yeah.” He bit his lip. “Let’s do that. Is that what you want?”
I looked right at him, at the little mole under his left ear, the faint stubble on his cheeks where he hadn’t shaved that day, the fold of his shirt collar sharp against his neck. It felt like we were walking on a trail through the woods and had suddenly come across a creek that we weren’t sure how to navigate. We were standing on one bank, surveying the other, uncertain if we could make the jump without getting wet.
“Sure,” I said. It felt like all I could say.
The next day, we called our relator from our kitchen on speakerphone. “We’ll take it,” I said.
My husband reached over and wrapped my hand in his. The stone of his wedding ring dug into the pad of my hand and I winced.
The real trouble started the week after we moved in.
Up until then, everything was good, or at least as good as it could be. That first week, we moved our furniture in and cleaned the fireplace. My husband bought a Weber for the porch. I surveyed the backyard for a garden of green beans and potatoes. The basement became a dumping ground. We filled it with my husband’s mountain bike, my old painting supplies, shovels and buckets to be used in the making of the garden, hammers, saws, an old coffeemaker we vowed to fix, and more.
While we were moving everything in, I dropped a plate on the kitchen floor. It shattered into two pieces, a Pac-Man shaped chunk and a smaller one. My husband told me to throw them away. I picked the pieces up carefully, so as not to cut myself, and took them outside to the mammoth green trash can we’d stationed in the strip of grass between our house and the neighbor’s. I tossed the smaller chunk away without thinking about it, but I kept the bigger one in my hand, thinking.
A tall tan fence hid me from the neighbors. The kitchen window overlooked the strip of grass. I could hear my husband unloading glasses and silverware into cabinets in the kitchen. The day was warm and overcast. Small insects buzzed in the air above my head.
Back there, in this space between spaces, I was invisible. I think that’s why I did it.
What I mean to say is that I didn’t throw the rest of the plate away. I left it there, hidden behind the garbage can. That night, while my husband brushed his teeth, I crept downstairs, went outside, and brought the chunk to the basement, where I set it next to Eloise on the windowsill. Then, I returned to our bedroom, dressed in pajamas, and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. I can’t say why I did it, looking back. Why a broken plate, of all things? Maybe it was the memory of those brochures (which then gathered dust on the living room table), and the way the doll – Eloise – had looked down there in the basement.
She’d seemed lonely.
The next week, my husband and I were in the living room, reading, when we heard the crash. It came from the basement. He set down his book. “What was that?” I told him I didn’t know, but I remembered the plate and my heart beat hard. He went to the kitchen and I followed him.
There was nothing wrong there. He looked into the cabinets to be sure. I checked the basement. A slim door in the corner of the kitchen led down narrow wooden stairs, which creaked under my feet. I reached the bottom and flicked the light on. The plate I’d left with Eloise lay scattered around my feet, shattered into a hundred slim periwinkle shards.
“What the fuck?” I kept my voice to a whisper. I looked at the windowsill. She wasn’t there. She stood at the base of the wall now, her eyes still empty and ceramic, gleaming dully in the light.
My husband called from the top of the stairs. “Is everything all right?”
“Yes,” I said. “Everything is fine here.”
“Good,” he said. Then he laughed. “God, I thought for a second it was that weird doll or something. Come back upstairs.”
I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I was rooted to the concrete floor, because, when he had spoken, when he’d said “that weird doll,” Eloise had frowned, the porcelain of her thin red lips bending to express her discontent.
I turned the light off and went back upstairs. My husband was pouring himself a glass of water. He looked over his shoulder at me and frowned. “Are you okay?”
I nodded. “Yeah,” I said, “I’m fine.” I forced my mouth into a smile and made an awkward choking laugh. My palms were sweaty. “That basement’s just weird is all.”
My husband chuckled. “Yeah,” he said, “it is a little spooky. We can fix it up. Get rid of that doll and everything. I was thinking about a laundry room. How’s that sound?”
That night, when we lay in bed, my husband fidgeting next to me, I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t make any sense. She was a doll. Porcelain and cloth, not blood vessels or keratin.
The relator had warned us. But I hadn’t believed the relator until the moment I saw Eloise move. And there was no doubt in my mind that she had moved. That night, as my husband finally fell asleep, everything stepped into place, like slowly backing into a parking spot. The doll – Eloise – was alive.
I think I resisted it most because it seemed too good to be true. Here, at last, was something to replace what we had lost.
For the next two weeks, my husband and I fought. It was about everything. It was about nothing.
He wanted red drapes in the bedroom. I told him we had already decided on blue. I wanted the couch to be at a 45-degree angle. Every time I adjusted it, he would sneak through the living room after I had gone and move it to a 35-degree angle. I organized our books in the spare bedroom by subject, then author, only for him to decide that it was better to have it by author, then subject.
Every time we disagreed, instead of confronting him, instead of sitting down and talking it over like a reasonable adult, I’d go down to the basement and care for Eloise. I brushed her hair and polished the cool ceramic of her toes until they gleamed pale and moonlike. She would blink and turn her head to follow me. It was disconcerting at first, but I soon grew used to it. Every child is different, after all. I got in the habit of talking to her. At first, it was just quiet, soothing conversation – the kind designed to come before bed, always just a shift away from lullaby. Then I started to complain about my husband. It seemed harmless. A safe place to vent my frustrations – at him, at the distance between us, at this cold hollow feeling inside of me. She never spoke back. Instead, she would occasionally click-clack her jaw open and shut. There were times I wished she would talk.
When we were down there, alone together, I could hear him walking above us. The squeak-thud of his shoes on the kitchen floor, the groan of the old cabinets opening and closing. In the moments where the noise was loudest, when I thought he might come down the stairs looking for me, I would pick Eloise up and hold her to my breast, trying to keep her hidden.
When I was down there with her, I almost felt good again, the way I’d felt before the miscarriage, before my husband and I had become strangers.
I planted rhododendrons in the front flowerbed. On Saturday, when I arrived home from the grocery store with a six-pack of his favorite IPA as a peace offering, he’d replaced them with ladies in the bath. This was our history too. Every indiscretion, every little fight, tallied up by each of us, smoothed over by gifts, back massages, and offerings of oral.
I went into the kitchen to put the groceries away.
He sat at the table, playing with his phone. I dropped the six-pack on the table next to him with a thud. He started and looked up at me. “Jesus,” he said, “you scared me.”
“We need to talk.”
“About what?” Condensation pooled at the base of the cans. He pushed his chair back and crossed his arms.
“About the flowers.”
“What about the flowers?”
I took a long deep breath. “You switched them. I planted rhododendrons yesterday. Now they aren’t rhododendrons anymore.”
“I switched them?” He ran his fingers through his hair and shook his head. “Is that a joke?”
“They were rhododendrons when I left and now they’re not.”
“And that’s my fault?”
My skin felt too tight. “Who else’s fault would it be?”
“You’re the one who messed with my bike.”
I frowned. A dog started to bark further down the block. “I didn’t touch your bike.” Was he gaslighting me? We had used to joke, when we were happy, about all the myriad, unhealthy ways people in relationships could fuck with each other. It had become a running gag.
When I took the trash out without being reminded or when he ordered flowers as a surprise, we’d accuse the other of gaslighting. The flowers had always been there. The trash took itself out. It was a sign of how strong we had been.
“Then who took the chains off?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” He laughed and looked away. “Maybe it was the doll, the ghost, the fucking poltergeist.”
I shifted my weight. “Maybe it was.”
He stopped laughing. “Are you kidding me? Look, I know you believed that crazy woman, but there’s no ghost. Just a creepy doll you keep going down to the basement to check on.”
My blood solidified in my veins. It made sense that he would notice. The house was small. I felt exposed, an insect without her rock. I retorted the only way I knew how. I slapped the table with the palm of my hand. “You’re the one who wanted history!”
A high-pitched keen rattled the dishes in the cupboards. The six-pack of IPA vibrated hard enough to shake the table and then exploded, splattering both of us with authentic Yakima valley hops and hints of citrus. I wiped a trail of beer off of my lips. My husband turned around. Eloise was standing in the doorway that led down to the basement. She blinked once and then screamed again. The window above the sink shattered.
We both stood there, unable to move. Shards of glass fell and tinkled against the tile countertops. In the silence that followed, Eloise turned around and went back down the stairs, half-leaping, half-stumbling so that her footsteps made a thump, thump-thump sound.
I swallowed. “What the fuck?”
“This is your fault,” my husband said. He was staring at the door to the basement, his eyes wide and full of fear.
“My fault?” I laughed and shook my head. “You’re the one who fucked with my flowers.”
He raised his voice. “If you hadn’t been down there messing around with her, none of this would have happened in the first place.”
“The realtor told us to take care of her.” I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Did you even look at the pamphlets?”
“Why are we talking about the pamphlets?” A river of beer trickled down his scalp. “There’s a murder doll in our basement.”
The thump-thump of Eloise’s footsteps echoed from the stairs again, growing louder. My husband and I both stopped talking. My heart beat in my throat. They paused halfway up.
He took his keys from his pocket and arranged them so that each one poked out from between his knuckles. We held a collective breath and then the noise resumed, growing quieter instead as she went back down to the basement.
I turned to him. “She doesn’t like it when we fight.”
He looked right at me. It was the first time we’d met eyes in what seemed like months.
There was something jarring about it, like seeing my reflection in the mirror after I’d lost a lot of weight – seeing someone so familiar, but so alien at the same time. “She’s a doll, sweetheart. She doesn’t dislike anything. The best thing we can do is ignore her.”
I wanted to say no. Why couldn’t we just listen to what the realtor had said? She’d left all the pamphlets. But here we were, talking. Here was something for us to agree on. The hollowness in my chest faded. So, even though I wanted to say no, I nodded and said, “yes.”
Ignoring Eloise was easier said than done. It’s one thing to be terrified by the sudden appearance of a sentient moving doll. It’s another thing to have one as a housemate. Still, my husband wanted to ignore her and that’s what we tried to do.
At first, it was small things. Our wedding photographs fell off the wall, no matter how many times we re-hung them. The narrow wooden cross hung in the entryway to appease my husband’s mother inverted itself constantly. One Friday night, the pizza boy, after handing me our pepperoni and jalapeno, looked over my shoulder and said “hail Satan” as a farewell. We poured concrete for a patio in the backyard, but it always came out wrong, warped and twisted like an alluvial plain, the next day no matter what we did.
However, none of this was as strange as this simple fact: nobody around us seemed to care. We hesitated to tell our parents, our siblings, our coworkers, but the truth eventually fell out. One afternoon, I was working in the front yard, digging flower beds on either side of the concrete stairs. I stood up to stretch my back and that’s when I saw it: blood staining the inside of our bedroom window. I shrieked, which set the neighborhood dogs wild, and raced upstairs. When I got to our bedroom, the blood had vanished. My husband was at the barber. It had been another of Eloise’s little pranks.
When I came back outside, several of the neighbors were standing around the door, gripping call phones. One of them, an elderly woman with thin white hair and liver spots, gripped my arm as I stood there, blinking in the sun, unsure how to explain this. The dogs were still barking.
“Dear,” she said, “are you all right?” Her fingers were like iron. “We heard an awful scream.”
I laughed. I wasn’t sure how to play this out. “Well, you see, my husband and I just bought the house.” I cleared my throat. The back of my neck felt hot. “And, well, it turns out it came with a possessed, murderous doll.” I pointed at the bedroom window.
Eloise’s pale face filled one of the panes, like a small moon. She waved one small porcelain hand. The elderly woman waved back. “Well,” she said, releasing her grip on my arm, “that sounds like a personal problem.” Then her and the rest of the onlookers dispersed.
After that, we tried to open up to our families, but it was much of the same. When I told my mother, she cleared he throat and said, “these things happen to everyone, love,” and then changed the subject to my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah – which, apparently, was fabulous. When my husband spoke to his father, he was quiet for a long time before he responded. “You know,” he said, “when your mother and I bought our first house, it had a terrible issue with cockroaches.”
We had good relationships with our parents. Our history was clean: no buried trauma, no childhood wounds. Still, for all the support they’d given us in the past, we had to face the facts. There was no one we could turn to. There we were, alone together, us and Eloise.
Our paranoia increased. When my husband’s old teddy bear went missing, we snapped, horrified at the thought of Chester H. Bearington possessed as well, wandering the halls with a knife. But it turns out he’d wound in the wrong box in the move. We found him mixed in with the motor oil and weed killer, none the worse for the wear.
The more we ignored Eloise and tried to live our lives around her, the worse I felt. One night, I hit my limit. My husband was asleep next to me in bed. It was the end of August. 95 degrees that day, but we both wore our pajamas, tops and bottoms. His knee brushed against mine in his sleep and I turned away, on to my side. I was half-asleep myself when I realized I could hear Eloise crying. My eyes opened. I lay there in the dark for a minute. Then I slipped out from under the covers, careful not to wake my husband, and went downstairs.
Eloise stood in the living room. A shaft of moonlight spilled over her face. She was sobbing. I had, at this point, given up trying to understand how she cried or smiled or moved at all.
She just could. It seemed like the only explanation we were going to get. She didn’t notice me. I went into the kitchen and took one of the fancy wineglasses from the top shelf. My husband wouldn’t notice it missing. I didn’t mind the loss. We hadn’t had company over since we’d moved in. There was too much risk involved. I took the glass back out to the living room.
Eloise was still standing there. She turned as I approached and stopped crying. Her blue eyes gleamed in the dark. I set the wineglass down in front of her and then sat cross-legged on the floor. A car went by on our road. It was just after midnight. She looked at the glass and then back to me.
I nodded. “It’s okay, Eloise. You can break it.”
She didn’t move at all, but the stem bent and twisted like a stick dropped into a raging fire.
The sound of glass shattering echoed in the living room. A creaking sound came from upstairs. It might have been the house settling; it might have been my husband.
I reached towards the glass in panic. Eloise hissed. The stem bent further. The sound of breaking glass grew louder.
I pulled my hand back. She stopped. “It’s okay,” I said. “But quietly.” I held a finger up to my mouth and gave her an exaggerated wink.
She nodded slowly and focused on the glass again. A thousand hairline fractures appeared in the cup itself, then a thousand more, like a mass of fine veins. Then the glass crumbled, but softly, with a tinkle. The shards glowed in the moonlight like jewels.
Eloise met my eyes. I smiled. She smiled back. “That’s very good, Eloise,” I said. Then I got the broom and dustpan, threw the shards into the trash, and went back up to bed.
The next morning, I came downstairs to find my husband sitting at the kitchen table, eating yogurt and granola. He swallowed and set his spoon down in the bowl with a clack. “We need to get rid of her.”
“Get rid of her?” I blinked. My stomach twisted into knots. “How are we going to do that?”
My husband had already tried putting her in the trash and donating her to the local Goodwill. Both times, she had appeared on our dresser in the morning, as if nothing had changed.
“I’ll burn her,” my husband said. He took another bite of yogurt.
“We can’t burn her,” I said. “She’s ceramic.”
“I wish you’d support me in this.” He crossed his arms.
I almost laughed. Me, support him? We had once been supportive of each other all the time. That was our history, who we used to be. I felt that gap between us then, the miscarriage, more than I ever had. Would it be so hard to open myself up to him? At first, he’d brought me flowers and chocolate, held my hand while we lay in bed, called in sick for me when I broke into tears at the thought of speaking over the phone, but something had changed. He had slowly stopped. I remembered myself in those early days. I had just laid in bed, wishing to sink down into the mattress. I hadn’t wanted to die, just to stop existing. I imagined how he must have felt, trying to care for me. But it wasn’t my fault and it wasn’t his either.
“Listen,” I said. “We should –”
“I’m going to take her to the river.”
He gestured towards a bundle of old t-shirts in the chair next to him. He’d wrapped it up with duct tape. The bundle wriggled and writhed. “I took her out of the basement earlier. I’m going to go to the park – that bridge by the Water Power building. Throw her in.” He took another bite of yogurt. “Should be the end of it.”
I wanted to tell him no, to say that we should keep her, but I couldn’t. Maybe he was right. Maybe if we got rid of her, we’d be okay after all. I let him go. A while later, he came back home. We were standing in the entryway.
“Well,” he said, “that’s that. Dropped her right into the falls. No way she’s coming back.” He grinned.
The doorbell rang. I opened the door. There was Eloise, a little damp. A sinuous green weed tangled in her hair. She pointedly ignored us and stomped past, on her way back down to the basement.
My husband stared after her, his jaw agape. Then he pulled his phone from his pocket. “I’m going to get an exorcist.”
“It’s a haunted doll. Or a haunted house. I dunno. You call an exorcist for that, right?”
“You think there’s an exorcist in the fucking yellow pages?”
“Do you even want to get rid of her?”
I swallowed around a lump in my throat. “I think we should keep her.”
My husband stopped his thumb mid-tap. He looked up at me.
“I just –” I took a deep breath. “I don’t want to go through it again. That loss.” My heart thrummed in my chest. I closed my eyes and waited for him to laugh or shake his head or walk away.
Instead, he walked over to me, his socks whispering against the floor, and took my hand in his. I rubbed the ridge of his knuckles with my thumb. “Do you want to talk about it?” His voice cracked as he spoke.
I shook my head. “One thing at a time. But, eventually, yes.”
He nodded and let go of my hand. “When you’re ready,” he said. “I’ll call the relator. Maybe she can help us out.”
We sat at the kitchen table with her on speakerphone. I explained the situation for her and we waited for her response. Her breathing, low and regular, crackled over the line. “It sounds to me,” she said, “like you haven’t been taking care of her. Did you build a display case?”
My husband shifted in his chair. “No.”
“Do you speak encouragingly to her?”
This time I responded. “I tried, but...”
The relator sighed. “Do you at least politely acknowledge her and refer to her by name?”
My husband slapped the top of the table. “She’s destroying our lives.”
The basement door slammed shut. My husband and I both turned. The stomp-step of Eloise making her way down the stairs answered us. Then that noise again. Sobbing.
“Well,” the relator said, “I think the question you should be asking yourself is ‘how can I provide adequate enrichment for my haunted doll so she’s not destroying things for attention?’ Have you considered that?”
My husband and I looked at each other. “No,” he admitted, “that’s not something we thought about.”
The relator sighed again. “Did you at least read the pamphlets?”
“Yes – no,” my husband and I said at the same time. We looked at each other and laughed.
“I’ll get them out again,” I said.
I reached to hang up, but my husband grabbed the phone first. “Wait,” he said. “I have a question. Is this – this doll, this thing, this haunting – is it because of us? Because of something we did, or something that happened?” I placed my hand on his thigh.
The relator was quiet for a second. “No,” she said, “of course not. You asked for history. Eloise is history. She’s not a manifestation or something being repressed. She’s just a doll.”
We got the pamphlets out and sat on the couch to read them together. My husband rested his hand on my thigh. I placed one hand on the back of his neck. We didn’t let the rest of our bodies touch at all. It was a start.
Once we were done reading the pamphlets, my husband sighed. “I just hate to give her stuff to destroy. We’re running out of stuff I can live without. What if she goes after my bike tires with a knife?”
“It’s better than the alternative,” I said. “What if she gets sick of the tires and comes after us?”
My husband shivered. He picked up one pamphlet, which helpfully measured haunted doll behavior on a scale from “Indian in the Cupboard” to “Chucky,” and tapped the upper end. “Yeah, let’s avoid this, if we can.”
I went into the kitchen and picked up a cheap white plate. The two of us went downstairs.
Eloise sat on the windowsill, facing away from us. The basement smelled musty, more so than usual. I held the plate out to her. She looked at it, but didn’t make a sound.
“Would you like to throw it?” I wiggled it a little. “It’s okay if you do.”
Eloise hopped off the windowsill and waddled over to us, but she just stood there. I nudged my husband in the ribs with my elbow. “Yeah,” he said, “go ahead and throw it, dolly. Eloise. It’s okay.”
The plate flew out of my hand and crashed into the concrete wall, sending chunks of white porcelain all over. One came to rest against my foot. My husband and I smiled.
“That’s good,” I said, “that’s very good, Eloise.”
She looked up at us and smiled too.
Our work began in earnest. I bought shatter-proof plates at the store. My husband stopped adjusting the cross when Eloise inverted it. After a while, she would change it back herself. We bought inflatable toys for her to puncture and purchased ketchup in bulk so she could smear it on the walls and pretend it was blood. The destruction slowed. We went from six broken plates a week, to four, to one. And, when Eloise did break one, we praised her for it, cooing and speaking in baby voices. She seemed happy.
We joined a support group. There were others out there like us. A family in Ephrata had problems with a toy soldier stabbing with its bayonet. A retired couple in Cheney had a male doll named Eddie. We arranged a playdate. A man in Hayden had a rocking horse which demanded to be ridden, but only by the man’s son. “I’m worried,” he said at one meeting. “He’s sixteen now and doesn’t quite fit on it how he used to.” He took a sip of coffee and shook his head. “I’m not looking forward to when he moves out.”
At first, my husband was insistent on finding out what had led to Eloise coming to life. He researched murders in our neighborhood. We excavated our basement and found a bootleggers’ stash, long bricked up. He hired a contractor to dig up the backyard. We exhumed three hamsters, a cardboard box filled with a staggering amount of pornography, and one desiccated GI Joe. He found an article online about a kidnapped girl named Eloise and got excited until I pointed out that it was in Louisiana, not Washington, even though our towns had the same name. There weren’t any answers. It was just something we’d have to live with.
That’s not to say Eloise was always bad. As we finished the basement, she proved to be adept at demolition. We gave her household waste – Styrofoam containers, beer bottles, spoiled fruit – and lined them up on the back fence. She would explode them, one after another, like a child with a BB gun.
My husband and I started counseling. I resisted, at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was better to let out all the things we’d been carrying. One November night, I came upstairs. My husband was in bed, in his pajamas. I undressed in the bathroom and stepped out.
He looked up at me. “Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” I said. “Do you want to try again?”
That next morning, we awoke to the sound of Eloise screeching in the basement. We dressed and rushed down the stairs. She was sitting at the base of the wall and stopped making noise as soon as we walked in. My husband knelt next to her. “What is it?”
Over the past month, we’d put in drywall and carpet. There was light blue wallpaper and the beginnings of a bathroom. Eloise blinked at him and then at me. Then she turned and carved a shape into the wallpaper. When she was done, it formed a heart. She made a noise. I knew it was laughter.
I set my hand on my husband’s shoulder. He smiled at me. A warm feeling spread through my chest. It was less like the end of something and more like the beginning.
Emmett Jones was born and raised in North Idaho. After brief stints in places like Dublin, Seattle, and North Dakota, he earned an MFA from the Creative Writing Program at Eastern Washington University. He currently works in marketing. You can find him on Instagram @watchemmetthike