At 2:54 in the afternoon on her ninth birthday, a little girl arrived home from school after walking the fourteen minutes home, as her mother had recently gotten a new job and trusted her to walk home alone. She fished around in her schoolbag to find her keys, attached to a keyring of a miniscule fake antique-look doll.
She eventually found the silver glint she was looking for and pulled her keys out of her bag and hurriedly opened the door, before going back outside to check the post box excitedly for any parcels or letters meant for her.
She couldn’t believe she hadn’t seen it when she walked up the pathway to the house. A brown parcel lay on its side in the porch. She stood staring, awed, wondering who would give to her such a big present. She grabbed three envelopes out of the post box and threw them down on the table inside the hallway before lifting the parcel and bringing it inside. It was lighter than she had expected. “I bet it’s full of bubblewrap, and it’s just another tiny little gift like I always get from all of those cheap relatives down in the countryside,” she said to herself. She laid it down on the sitting room coffee table and read the page taped to the top.
“FRAGILE. DO NOT SHAKE. TREAT WITH CARE.”
She began to get excited again, because she could now see that it was definitely for her. She read it over and over;
“Miss Sallyanne Morgan.”
Sallyanne looked at the package a while longer, almost afraid to break the excitement of anticipation. Within five minutes she was battling with the scotch tape and cardboard of the box. Once she got it open, it revealed layers of thin white paper. A perfumed aroma was seeping from the paper, or perhaps from under it. Sallyanne unwrapped the gift and was struck with amazement at what she found inside. It was the most beautiful porcelain doll she had ever seen. Its face and porcelain skin had the appearance of a cream divvied out beyond measure. Its teeth look liked ivory from the grandest piano. The best parts of all were her eyes. They were closed when Sallyanne uncovered the doll, long eyelashes brushing delicately at the top of her rose-coloured blushing cheeks. They were open now. The blue colour of them could have been part of the ocean, or the sky. They shone slightly in the afternoon sunlight, and that was when Sallyanne remembered to close the front door. She went to close it and saw her mother come into the driveway, and stood waiting for her to get in. It was half past five. Sallyanne had been staring at that doll and its oceans (had they too been staring into her?) for hours without noticing. She hadn’t even read the letter at the bottom of the box. She felt ungrateful. She didn’t even know who had given her this marvellous gift.
She reached for the paper. It was browned, torn at the edges, which struck Sallyanne as odd. The writing was in a calligraphic script that she couldn’t read. She excitedly gave the letter to her mother, who was now in the hallway, and thrust the beautiful doll towards her to show her the reason for her excitement.
Her mother began to read the letter.
“Dear Sallyanne, Victoria and Russell Morgan.
I am giving this doll to you, Sally, for your ninth birthday. I hope you love her and take care of her, because if you do, she will feel and act the same way toward you. She is an antique, a collector’s item. Her name is Mariana. If you look in the box, you’ll see that there is another dress, petticoat and other such garments for her inside. I hope you love her as much as I do, Sally. I am sure that she will let me know how you are treating her!
Victoria, Russell, do not take this doll away from Sally. I understand that you may think she is too young for the responsibility of such a precious item, but I assure you, Mariana belongs to her now.
Happy birthday, Sallyanne!
Yours with love,
Sallyanne’s mother began to tear up as she read the last few words. “It’s from your auntie, Denise,” she said. Sallyanne was aware that Auntie Denise had died two or three years prior. Sallyanne had been bought a black dress for the occasion. Everyone had cried. And that doll had disappeared a few months beforehand. Sallyanne had always admired the doll. She smiled broadly.
Victoria wiped away a few tears and read that the date was written at the top of the paper, just a few months before Denise had passed away. What Victoria found strange was that Denise had not suffered from an illness. She had been murdered. There were no suspects. How would she know to give the doll away beforehand?
Victoria put all of these thoughts out of her head and tried to be happy for Sallyanne. They celebrated her birthday with cake after dinner when her father got home and she wished that her new doll would love her forever.
Victoria and Russell discussed the doll and mutually decided that the best thing to do would be to put it sitting up on the mantel above the fireplace. Sallyanne wasn’t happy with this, she wanted to be able to play with the doll and have it sleep in her bed with her, but they refused to budge on the subject.
It was not until a few nights later, Saturday night, when Sallyanne was lying in bed that she heard a noise. It was a shuffling sound, which went on for about five minutes. Then, a brief dragging noise and finally, light footsteps walking very fast.
By now Sallyanne was shaking in her bed with fear, unable to move. Then, she thought she heard a faint voice whispering quietly from downstairs. Had someone broken into the house? Sallyanne always slept with the door open, but her parents hadn’t allowed her a key for the door, in case of emergencies.
She heard the voice say, “Sally, I’m on the first step,” and then louder, closer, “Sally… I’m on the second step.”
Sallyanne was so scared that she didn’t sleep a wink that night but laid in fear until the break of dawn, but no more sweet, terrifying sentences made their way up the staircase.
Sallyanne tried to explain to her mother what had happened the night before, but was so tired that when her mother passed it off as “just a dream”, she began to believe it might be true.
Of course it wasn’t. Sallyanne begged her parents to let her throw the antique doll in the garbage, but they insisted that it was a very valuable present and that she had to keep it. “Besides,” they said, “You love that doll. Whatever’s gotten into you? That silly dream?”
So Sallyanne reluctantly went back to bed, telling herself that it had only been a dream. She checked the mantelpiece, but the doll was exactly where Sallyanne had left her. Smiling sweetly, hair as curly as ever.
That night, Sallyanne fought sleep, but she eventually drifted off due to her sleepless night the evening before. Presently, the sweet disembodied voice woke Sallyanne again. She wondered if she could only hear it in her head.
“Saaallyyyy! I’m on the fourth step…” it said. It must have been calling to her while she was asleep beforehand.
“I’m on the fifth step, Sally…”
“Sallyyyyyy… I’m on the sixth step.”
Sallyanne was crying by now. There were nine steps up to the landing.
The voice didn’t come again, but Sallyanne kept sat on her bed rigidly, as if she were a porcelain doll.
At school the next morning, Sallyanne told her friends about the doll, and of course they laughed at her. Sallyanne could only think that there was only one more night to go until Mariana reached her unlockable bedroom door.
That night Sallyanne pushed a stool against her bedroom door. It was no good, and it didn’t seem any good to Sallyanne. It didn’t give her peace of mind, but she tried to tell herself it would work.
She tried to get to sleep, because she couldn’t stand thinking about it. Just as she began to doze, she heard the voice.
And it came very clearly this time. “Sallyyyy! I’m on the eight step… I’m on the ninth step, Sally. Now I’m at the top of the stairs. Sally, I’m so close.”
In the darkness of her bedroom, Sallyanne heard a click and trembled with fear. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she could see her bedroom door opening very, very slowly. The stool moved with it.
Mariana entered the room. “I’m in your bedroom, Sally. We can finally play together.” She smiled dementedly, swaying a knife in one of her antique hands.
Sallyanne’s eyes shot open, and as fast as she could, she kicked the doll onto its side. She grabbed the knife and brought it down sharply onto Mariana’s porcelain hand, hoping to stop her. Mariana screamed a semi-human howl and jumped up, onto Sallyanne’s face, her fingers still on the carpet. Mariana clawed at Sallyanne’s face with her ivory teeth, and regained the knife with her remaining full hand. She slit Sallyanne’s wrists and throat, dropped the knife by her bed and recovered her place on the mantel. Sweet smile plastered on her porcelain face.
The next morning, Sallyanne’s parents found her body at the bottom of the stairs. They guessed that she had been on her way to the toilet during the night and in the darkness, had slipped and fallen down the stairs, breaking her neck. The huge wounds couldn’t possibly be self-inflicted, could they? Her parents thought it was their fault; maybe they didn’t pay her enough attention. They were distraught. They had found their sharpest knife on the floor by her bed.
The antique doll was found beside her body, and was buried with Sallyanne. Everyone said what a tragedy it was.
“She loved that doll so much,” said her mother, through tears. “Now she can be with her forever.”
Underneath the earth, in Sallyanne’s dark, mahogany coffin, the porcelain doll began chop off Sallyanne’s lifeless fingers one by one and attach them to her own china hands where Sallyanne had cut off hers.
And then she cut through the coffin and up to the surface of the grave in her rose pink dress, smoothed her new parts until they looked like cream-porcelain, and sat herself down on the street outside the cemetery, waiting for a new owner who she could love more than anything. Because loving someone means watching them die, she smiled with her porcelain face and took her regular position, smiling sweetly, Sallyanne’s fingers on her hand.
Credit To: Fiona