I recently submitted this story, which happened to me back in the late 1990s, to the Anything Ghost Show. You can listen to it on the podcast here. It’s a great show and, if true tales of the supernatural are your thing, I encourage you to subscribe to it. Below is the text to the story if you’d like to read it for yourself.
When my mother was young, in the late 1950s, she was given a Patti Playpal doll. This fact in itself is not so alarming. But, as my grandfather was in the Air Force and the family moved around a fair amount, the doll was lost in transition and my mother never saw it again… until the passing of my grandmother in October of 1984. Following the funeral, my mother and aunt gathered at my grandmother’s house, now home to my aunt, and began to clean out closets and distribute family heirlooms between them. I was just nine years old at the time and was sitting, quietly, in the living room half watching TV and half trying to understand the entire situation. This was the first death I’d experienced and while I understood it I wasn’t sure how to handle it just yet.
“Oh my God!” came a cry from my mom, who was rifling through the hall closet, just around the corner from the living room. “What?” cried my aunt, who was taking a rest on a chair nearby. “Look!” replied my mom and she pulled out a pillowcase, wrapped in belts, with two feet sticking out from the opening. “Patti!”
My mom was elated. Belts were unbuckled and the pillowcase was stripped away, revealing a near-mint condition, life-size doll that look stunningly like a six-year-old girl with pale skin and brown hair. Instantly I was terrified.
The arms had been removed and were loose inside the pillowcase but my mom popped them back into their sockets and brought the doll into the living room, bending her hips and letting her sit, directly across from me, her head tilted off, looking back toward the closet from which she came. “This was my doll,” my mom told me, and explained how she’d been lost for decades. Even at nine years old I wondered to myself, how was she lost for decades? She was obviously in that closet, right? Why those belts and the pillowcase?
After the excitement diminished, my mother and aunt went back to their business. Meanwhile, I sat very still, the doll sitting directly across from me, looking back at her recent tomb. My mom’s voice faded off and the two of them disappeared into a backroom. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t catch my breath. The doll was the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen. She should have been innocuous. But this “toy” created an absolute anxiety in me. And then she turned to face me.
Her head twisted, slowly, on its pivot and in seconds she was face-to-face with me and appeared to be smiling widely. “MOM!”
My mom came running, my aunt was right behind. “What?”
“She’s looking at me!”
“I mean, she turned her head and she’s looking at me.”
“Tommy, she’s a doll. Don’t be silly. Be careful with her. She’s old and she’s liable to fall apart if you touch her.”
“I didn’t touch her!” I tried explaining but the adults went back to their business and the doll continued to stare.
We returned home to Charleston after a few days. The doll came too. My mother set her up at the foot of the stairs so that, when you were coming downstairs and turned on the landing, you saw her, standing there, waiting for your arrival. This didn’t last long because I refused to pass by her.
For a long time I had nightmares about the doll… terrifying dreams in which she was coming after me. Once in a while I was convinced I hadn’t been dreaming and would beg my mom to get rid of her. She wouldn’t.
But after years of this fear my mother relented and stored the doll in the back of her bedroom closet. The closet wasn’t deep but it had lots of room to either side of the doors; four or five feet in either direction for storage. The doll was kept in the farthest corner of the closet, where I was promised I would never have to see her.
During my senior year of high school I was home alone was early evening. I was getting ready for a night of hanging out with friends and had just finished with my shower. Standing in the bathroom, door shut, towel on, I finished drying my hair when I heard the the door to my mom’s bedroom door click open. I froze.
Soft footprints crept along the carpeted hallway out of her room and past the bathroom door. They continued into the dining room and, as the carpet ended and was replaced by the linoleum of the kitchen, the sound became a light slap-slap as though tiny feet were finding their way around the room. Don’t breathe. The sound of drawers opening slowly and then the tinkling of silverware… Jesus, it’s her and she’s got a knife. I literally thought, in my panic, that the doll had spent years planning for this very moment, had escaped the closet, and had snuck past the bathroom to get a knife in an attempt to kill me like so many horror movies. Then the sound of the drawer slowly sliding closed. Tiny feet along the linoleum. Tiny feet across the carpet. Past the bathroom. The door to my mother’s bedroom thudded shut. She’s out there. She’s not hiding. She wants me to think she is but she’s out there with a knife ready to kill me. I’m not proud of the fear that swallowed me in that moment. But it was there. I just knew that a lifetime of terror had amounted to this.
I stood perfectly still for what felt like an hour, but should only have been a moment. I decided that I had heard everything that I had thought I heard and that accusing the doll was a stupid, childhood fear. But the sounds were real and someone had made them. Someone must have gotten into the house while I was in the shower! I had to get out before this real person hurt me. I calculated my escape and, since there was no window I knew I had to go through the bathroom door. Arming myself with the hairdryer and a disposable razor, I threw the door open, hoping the surprise would halt any attack long enough for me to make a move. But no one was there. I looked down both ends of the hallway and no one was anywhere. Dropping the hairdryer and razor I hurried to the left, toward the dining room where a pile of laundry sat on the dining room table. I grabbed what I could and ducked into the living room and hid, on the far side of the couch, under an end table.
The phone was sitting in its cradle above me. Flashbacks of “the call is coming from inside the house,” struck me but I decided not answering the phone would somehow be worse. Carefully, to avoid being seen, I reached my hand up and grabbed the cordless, whispering into it, “Hello?”
“Tommy,” it was Sam, one of my friends with whom I was supposed to be heading to see. “Instead of meeting at J’s we’re going to go to…”
“There’s somebody in my house!” I interrupted.
“There’s somebody in my house, Sam!”
“Get out,” she insisted, “I’m calling the police.” I hung up on Sam and, dreading the idea of heading back into that hallway, got up my courage and headed into the danger zone, through the kitchen. I couldn’t look back down the hallway, toward the bathroom and my mom’s room. But I could feel something or someone down there and they were pissed. Throwing open the kitchen door I stumbled down the steps into the carport and fumbled with my keys, desperate to get into my car. The carport lights came on. They were not motion activated. They had to be turned on from inside the house. So I looked up. And there, in the nine-pane window of the kitchen door was the silhouette of a person, child-sized, all in black, staring at me. I got in my car and drove to the entrance of the street and waited for help.
The police found nothing. No forced entry. No evidence of anyone being inside the home. Nothing. They elbowed one another, presumably an inside joke about the scrawny teenager who scared himself. I met up with Sam and the others afterward and eventually calmed down. But the event was not isolated, and a few weeks later, it played out again in almost exact detail. I refused to be at home alone from then on. If no one was around, neither was I.
Happily, I left for college a short time later and after a few years I had nearly forgotten about the doll. And then I came home for a visit one weekend. Up the steps from the carport and through the kitchen door, I didn’t see anyone around. “Mom?”
“Back here!” she shouted from the end of the hall.
I wandered down the hallway that I had once hated and entered my mom’s bedroom. She was sitting on the floor with the doll standing in front of her – facing away. She had slipped two pillowcases over the doll and was buckling several belts, tightly, around it.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
She stamped out her cigarette. “Huh? Oh nothing.”
“Liar,” I said, jokingly. I preferred not knowing at this point. She finished buckling it up and tucked it back into the far side corner of the closet, four or five feet out of sight.
But several weeks later, when I was again home for a short visit, my mom asked, “Remember when I was wrapping Patti up?”
“Sorry for what?” I asked.
“I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you about it.” She looked upset but attempted a smile.
“Ok, I give. What happened? Why did you wrap her up like when we found her?”
She went on to explain that the night before I showed up she had had a vivid dream in which she met an old woman who was carrying a young girl. The old woman approached her and asked, “Can you keep her safe?” My mom said, “Of course!” and took the girl into her arms. At this point she recognized the little girl as the very same doll but alive. “Go!” the old woman barked. And my mom took off with the girl in her arms as fast as she could. Suddenly, a phone booth was in her path and it rang loudly. Holding the girl, she said she had to make a decision. “If I don’t answer it, it’ll be worse than if I do.” (It struck me that this was exactly how I felt when Sam had called me so many years before.) She picked up the phone and, gingerly, said, “Hello?” A rasping, guttural and angry, answered, “We will find her.” At that she slammed the phone down and woke up.
She continued, “When I woke up, I was shaking. I sat on the edge of the bed and lit a cigarette,” she did this in real-time as she told the story, “and as I did, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. I turned slowly to the closet door and saw that it was open, just a foot or so, and there, leaning out as though she was eavesdropping, was Patti.”
“Please tell me you’re lying,” I said.
“I’m not. It took me a minute to realize what I was seeing. Once I did I walked out of the room and spend the rest of the night awake, in the living room, watching TV. You saw what happened the next day… I bundled her up and put her away.”
My mother had finally, after nearly 15 years, confirmed my fears. The doll was not right. Had my grandmother known all those years before and trapped it? Is that why it “vanished” for so long only to reappear once her control over it had dissipated? We’ll likely never know.