I remember exactly when this started, my spiral into insanity. Has it only been a week? The days have dragged on for so long while simultaneously hurtling by at impossible speeds. A trip to the local farmers market seemed harmless enough at the time.
“Sure, I’ll go,” I had said to my friend.
There was nothing much to see there. It was the end of the season, so most vendors were running low on stock and produce. As I made my way through the maze of people, careful not to bump into anyone, the cold, crisp autumn wind blew my hair in all directions. At the edge of the crowd, conspicuously set off on its own, was a small, brown tent. It looked medieval and tattered, its sides flapping open in the wind, as I glimpsed the darkness inside. It was the darkness that drew me toward it. I had to know what was in there.
I left my friend at the floral booth, and quietly slipped away. The thick blue-grey clouds hung low and heavy. They raced through the sky with the wind. Fallen leaves crunched beneath my feet and almost-bare trees swayed, their exposed, jagged branches reaching for the sky the way a zombie might reach out of its grave.
There was a warning, deep inside of my soul, that I shouldn’t go down this path. Nothing good would come of this, but already I knew…there was no turning back. I glanced over my shoulder looking at the market behind me. Everyone was so absorbed in their own lives, nobody even noticed this peculiar tent. Was I the only one who could see it?
Reaching out my hand, I slowly pulled back the curtain, just an inch…just to peek. An unexpected gust of wind ripped the fabric from my fingers, pulling the tent open wide, exposing my presence.
“There you are,” a small voice hissed. “Come in!”
I thought about running. Wanted to run, even. But an invisible leash kept me tethered to this place. I licked my lips, they were so dry.
“It’s rude to just stand there. I said come in.” The voice was less friendly this time. I stepped into the darkness, giving my eyes a moment to adjust.
A frail old lady with brittle, long, grey hair sat behind a table. Shelves lined the sides of the tent, filled with unmatching, rusty antiques. The air outside was cold, but it was even colder inside the tent. As cold as I imagine death would be.
“I have something for you.” She smiled, revealing a mostly empty mouth. The few rotten teeth that remained were crooked and visibly decayed. Seemingly out of thin air, she retrieved a doll.
It was about four inches tall and in a permanent sitting position. It wore a black satin dress with long, black lace sleeves. Pale grey, porcelain hands with tiny fingers stuck out of the sleeves, hanging limply at her sides. Her porcelain legs stretched out in front of her, black painted shoes were on her feet. Her hair was short and black, with bangs that poured over her grey forehead and down to her eyes. Those soul-less doll eyes. Bright, crystal blue, with black circles around them. The black circles dripped down in streaks underneath her eyes, like tears of blood. Her tiny little nose and pale grey lips showed no expression. It felt like she was looking directly into my soul. Goosebumps crawled over my skin.
“I don’t have any money with me,” I lied.
“Oh no, darling. It is my gift to you!”
I took the doll and said a polite ‘thank you.’ I really just wanted to get out of there. I’d ditch the doll in the next trash can and pretend this never happened.
She gave me a look, through narrowed eyes, that chilled me to my bones. A wicked smile spread across her lips. I left the tent.
Heading back to the market, I threw the doll in the nearest trash can and set off to find my friend.
“Where were you?” She had asked me. “I looked everywhere for you. It’s like you disappeared!”
“I was over in that tent.” I would’ve pointed it out to her if the tent had bothered to stay put. But it was gone.
She looked at the vast empty space to which I pointed. “Are you okay?”
I shook my head. “Can we go?”
We walked in silence to my car. The heavy door squealed on its rusty hinges when I pulled it open. My friend got into the passenger seat. Terror gripped my heart, and I couldn’t move.
“What the hell is that?” she asked, her voice an octave higher than usual.
I could only stare at the gift…the doll…that sat on my seat as though I had left it there.
“It’s just a creepy doll,” I said, taking it off my seat and leaving it on a nearby picnic table. The doll and I locked eyes as I drove away without her.
Nothing else was said about it. I dropped my friend off at her house, then went home. It was an uneventful evening. Little did I know that would be the last peaceful evening of my life.
That night, the horrific nightmares started. They were so real I was convinced demons were visiting me. Sleep paralysis, they had said. In the morning, when I awoke, the doll was sitting next to my bed on the nightstand. Her soul-less eyes fixated on mine.
No matter how many times I threw her away, she kept returning. I crushed her, I burned her. I locked her in a metal box with a brick in it and threw her into Lake Michigan. She always came back unscathed. I hid her in the closet, I took her out into the cornfield and strapped a quarter-stick of dynamite to her. I watched as she was blown to shreds, but there she was, sitting on the dashboard of my car before I could even leave the scene. She was mine, and there was nothing I could do about it.
The night terrors became more intense. I did unspeakable things inside of these dreams, and the demons that tormented me were darker than anything Hollywood can ever make up. I began to fear sleep. Each dream pulled me deeper and deeper into the pit of my imaginary hell. And every time I woke up the dreams stayed with me longer and longer, until even during my waking hours I could not escape the vivid images of this demonic hell I was forced to envision.
On day four, I woke up with blood on my hands. It wasn’t mine. I didn’t know what to do about that. So I washed my hands and hoped it was just another insane delusion I was suffering. What would you have done?
By the fifth day of this torment, I could no longer find my friend. I wanted to confide in her. To tell her where I got this hideous doll. To let her know that this wasn’t a case of sleep paralysis as the nurse told me over the 24-hour hotline. This was something more and I really needed to talk to my friend about it. But, she stopped answering my calls, so I took a ride over to her house. Her car was in the driveway and her door was locked. She refused to answer my knock. Was she avoiding me? Was she afraid of me? Was she even in there?
I went back home, alone and isolated from the rest of the world. As though I wasn’t even a real part of the world anymore. I sat in the deafening silence of my house, on the living room floor. My legs were crossed under me. The doll sat on the coffee table, directly in front of me at eye level. My eyes locked with the doll’s and I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t blink. And that’s when I knew it. I knew it just as clearly as I knew the sun rises in the East. This doll was possessed. There was a demon attached to it.
My eyes grew dry and my vision blurred and shifted until all I could see were chaotic distortions of the doll’s face. I could feel my soul spiraling down, further and further into an abyss of nothingness. I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel scared. Really, I didn’t feel anything at all. Then my vision went completely black. That’s when I saw him clearly for the first time.
He had been only a shadow in my dreams. But now I could see him with distinction. He was shaped like a human. One head, two arms, and all that. But he didn’t have any skin. As though he had at one time been a human, but now he was a stripped-down version of that. He didn’t have any hair. He was a raw, meaty color. He stood alone in the darkness. Was I still in my house? Was I even in my own universe anymore?
The deeply cratered, uneven texture of his body was repulsive. Everything about this creature was vile. Except for his eyes. His bright, crystal-blue eyes. They were just like the doll’s eyes. Almost exactly like the doll’s eyes, only his were full of soul. His dark, twisted soul.
They held me captive, those tortured, haunted eyes. And I felt his pain. His utter, desperate aloneness. The darkness that enveloped him…it weighed so heavy on my heart, that I couldn’t separate where his pain and loneliness ended and where mine began. I clutched my stomach, doubled over trying to ease the discomfort of this horrific shared emptiness that radiated between us.
Tears stung the backs of my eyes. Not tears for me but tears for him. Tears for this tortured soul in front of me, his eyes staring deeply into my own. His sadness was so thick and hard to swallow that I swear I could’ve choked on it.
I reached out, my fingers caressing his rough face. He stood, unmoving, allowing me to explore. I slid my palm down the side of his neck and over his chest, letting my hand linger there. Our eyes remained intensely connected as I stilled, feeling his heart beating under my hand. After a moment I stepped back.
He reached out to me, with his gruesome, half-decayed hand. It trembled. His eyes pleaded silently for me to take it, to take his hand. I could relate to the desperation in his attempt to connect, to be accepted.
I felt almost compelled to reach out for him. To share fully in his pain and let him know he was not as alone as he felt. The broken in me hurt for the broken in him. I yearned to ease his torture. But I hesitated.
His shoulders fell with his chest, as he exhaled the deep breath he had been holding in. He lowered his chin, ever so slightly, as his blue eyes slowly looked away from mine, the unrelenting sadness in them growing darker. And I knew that my hesitation hurt this beast, as he withdrew his extended hand. And then he was gone.
I looked around my living room. Everything was right where I left it. Except for the doll. She was gone. I looked all evening for that demonic little doll, searching desperately for reasons I couldn’t understand. I just needed her. Needed to know I had a connection to him. To the demon. I fell into an exhausted heap on my bed after turning up empty-handed in my hours-long search for her.
That night I had beautiful dreams of meadows and sunshine. When I awoke, the overpowering stench of the flowers stuck with me, nauseating me, and I had a headache from all that sunshine I had to endure. I felt empty inside, almost hollow, like something was missing. My chest was heavy, and I couldn’t breathe.
I wanted to apologize to the creature. I wanted to dream of dark things so he would visit me while I slept, and I could tell him that I was so very sorry for hurting him. I had officially lost my mind.
I tried to take my thoughts off of him. I called my friend, but she was still either ignoring me, or unable to get back to me for some reason. I read a favorite novel, but I couldn’t focus on the plot. I just kept wondering about him. The tortured soul. The intense connection we had at the very core of our insignificant little hearts. This dark, hideous demon was supremely beautiful in his own rightful way. How could that be?
The day trudged on, and I had this unsettling feeling I would never see him again. The connection we felt must’ve been the cultivation of lifetimes of love. Our souls had to have known each other. Nothing else could explain the overwhelming intensity of it. Or the overwhelming devastation at the thought of never seeing him again.
A sadness heavier than depression consumed me. Something had changed in me over the past week. I wasn’t who I used to be anymore. I was something entirely different. I knew in my veins that I hadn’t just met this creature, but I had reconnected with him. I was like him. Maybe not physically, but inside. Inside I was dark and selfish. And bad. Just like this demon.
Why did I have to hesitate? Because darkness is bad? Because bad is somehow less than good? According to who? Bad is so subjective, who gets to decide? Why is bad so bad? I understand that it is. But why?
Feeling dejected, I threw on my coat and ran out into the pouring rain. The night was settling over the town and every normal person sought shelter in the warmth of their dry homes. I ran all the way to the market. As expected, there was nothing but vacant space.
Lightning sizzled across the sky and thunder pounded overhead. I looked up into the pouring rain.
“Come back!” I yelled at the clouds. “I’m sorry! Can you hear me? I’m sorry.”
Another bolt of lightning cracked across the sky, and I saw her in the distance. Sitting on the picnic table across the way, in the pouring rain, was my doll. The ground sloshed beneath my feet as the saturated earth gave under the weight of my determined stride. I sat down on the bench of the table, facing the doll. Rain cascaded down my cheeks and off the tip of my nose.
The world was pitch black outside of the random bursts of lightning. I picked up the doll, my fingers gently gliding across its little, pale-grey face. A blinding burst of lightning crashed above my head, then everything went black…and he was there.
Relief washed over me. The anxiety that threatened to suffocate me dissipated. With him, I didn’t have to pretend. I didn’t have to conform. He understood…knew what I needed. This demon knew who I was…who I really was. He saw me…like, really saw me.
Whatever kind of demon this was, whatever he had done in the past, it didn’t matter to me. All that mattered is that he was here now, and this overbearing empty void in my existence was now overflowing with acceptance and belonging.
I ran to him, clinging to him as though my life depended on it. Like he was somehow my savior. Or maybe I was his. He held me tightly for a beat, before stepping back. His beautiful, blue eyes searched mine, as he cautiously reached his hand out to me.
I smiled, watching the pain in his eyes disappear. I felt my pain easing too. Without a second thought, I placed my youthful, pink hand in his. I watched it change into the raw, meaty texture of the demon’s body. It spread over my body like blood on a carpet. I didn’t feel scared or sad. I felt…free.
I felt complete, truly whole, as we walked together into the darkness.