Halloween on The Doll Lady's Doorstep

Eyes... so many, many eyes.

When I was a kid, in the center of the block between my house and that of my Great-Aunt Bess was a distinctive home...

For the sheer quantity of plastic dolls which decorated the exterior.

Big dolls, small dolls, staring dolls. The neighborhood watch, relentless... tireless... glassy-eyed... all-seeing...

The stuff of many a footy-pajama nightmare.

As long as I could remember, this house had been decorated in weather-blighted plastic children.

Dolls were strapped to chicken-wire across the front door in a layered collage like the bodies of a thousand less-fortunate Hansel and Gretels-- their dirty, faded faces appealing to passersby begging release from this infinite imprisonment.

Dolls jutted up from sticks in the flower beds, their shredded taffeta gowns gone gray, frayed ribbons blowing in the wet autumn wind.

There were naked dolls, decapitated dolls, and heads alone... Dolls with soft matted hair, and dolls with no hair at all. In between these, metallic pinwheels spun, like the rides on a traveling carnival... Reflective like a hall of mirrors.

It was enough to make you dizzy.

The old woman who lived there, her name was Grace, I recall my dad saying. And those dolls had been there as long as he remembered, too. I only caught a glimpse of her once or twice, but she didn't disappoint-- with her gray soft curls rolled under at the nape of her neck, and a black blouse and skirt.

Dad said she always wore black, but whether in mourning of some lost husband, some swept-away childhood, some beloved infant that went missing from life's path, I don't recall.

As a kid, it was enough that she just was.

So every Halloween, we kids would roam the neighborhood scouring it for treats. And every Halloween we would give the house of The Doll Lady, as she was called, a good wide berth. It remained dark, just those cool garden lights to illuminate the sidewalk... to reflect on the residents in the garden.

Until one year when I was about ten.

"Look," breathed my friend Sarah-- or rather Sacajawea-- pointing an anachronistically mittened hand from her fringed tunic. "The Doll Lady. Her light. It's on."

Passing from the House of Cocker Spaniels, to Mr. Esposito Who Worked at the M&M Mars Factory (always a primo place to stop), and on to my Great-Aunt Bess, we were forced to go past the Doll Lady's abode.

And sure enough, Sacajawea had scouted out the truth of the matter. It was Halloween. And there, displaying the Universally-Accepted Symbol of "Candy Distributed Here" was the golden porchlight glow of The Doll Lady's home.

We stopped dead on the sidewalk.

"Should we try it?" asked Sacajawea, who'd been dreaming of candy since about June, and the sugar and endorphins were probably screwing with her better judgement.

"It's gotta be a mistake," I said, muffled inside my giant Garfield head. Per the criteria of my family's Halloween tradition, (you can read about that here, if you like) I was once again head-to-toe costumed in a hand-made creation of my mother's so well-done, it had won an award at the town costume contest the night before... And so confining to my senses that I actually needed an Indian guide, just to see where the heck I was going.

"But the light is on," Sacajawea pressed. "Is it ever on at night?"

"How would I know?" I said, strained. "I'm usually in doing math homework now."

"I'm going to try it," the Indian maiden said, stepping a moccasined foot forward.

"Mr. Esposito just gave you, like, five Twix bars," I argued.

But clearly, the cacao addiction was having its effect. My friend was already moving silently down the walk.

I followed, a reluctant Lewis and Clark, peering through my styrofoam eye-ball slits to watch the plastic piked heads watch me as I passed.

In the damp light of day, the dolls held a weary forlorn appearance. Under the cold harvest night, they took on a taut, ready look I didn't like.

"She's never given out candy before," I hissed to my friend's back. "Let's go. There are plenty of other places to hit anyway."

But now that we were standing on the porch, in front of the giant chickenwire and dolly shrine, we were frozen into place.

There were so many faces. So many eyes. Some fluttered gently in the breeze. Some were faded to white, blind with years in the elements. Some had sunken clear back into their heads.

The display was trimmed with bows, once possibly pink, but now faded to a sickly orange-gray, like some macabre birthday present straight from Tim Burton's mind.

In layers of fake orange fur, I broke out in a cold sweat.

As if in a trance, Sacajawea pressed the doorbell.

Bing-BONG.

Silence.

Why would anyone do this to so many playthings? What was missing in the lady Grace's heart, or jagged in her mind that would craft this torture chamber of youth? This warning sign to the curious?

And what in the name of Mattel were we doing standing on the woman's porch?!

Silence.

Then a squeak.

And we were down the sidewalk and all the way to Aunt Bess's before you could say Hundred-Thousand-Dollar Bar.

Looking over our shoulders, the door of The Doll Lady's home was still tight as a toy drum. The squeak? It had to have been nothing... Nothing.... Just the wind on a pinwheel...

Just the slip of a doll's reaching arm.

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Today's Question: Anything in particular-- rational or irrational-- kids in your neighborhood were scared of, growing up?

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22 comments:

Berowne said...

I was impressed by your list of favorite movies. It's interesting that you can tell so much about a person by what he/she reads-views-listens to.

Hope you won't mind if I mention that they're Coen, not Cohen, brothers.

Jenn Thorson said...

Berowne- Thanks, I'll correct it. I know better, but that's one I continually screw up because I normalize it. It looks so unnatural to me without the "h". :)

Shieldmaiden96 said...

I think I just read the blog post most likely to give me bad dreams. I am completely creeped out. It reminds me of the scene in 'To Kill A Mockingbird' when the girl is walking home in the dark, windy, creepy, squeaking night in the ham costume.

I hate dolls almost as much as clowns.

Shieldmaiden96 said...

Oh, and a related warning:

Don't put 'creepy dolls' in Google Images. It will pay your efforts a thousandfold.

*shudder*

Jenn Thorson said...

Shieldmaiden- Sorry to have totally creeped out your inner child. I wish I could have taken photos of her house. It was both intriguing and frightening. But then I don't have doll fear. (Clowns, however, I am not so fond of.)

That is a very exciting scene in To Kill A Mockingbird-- one of my favorites.

Daisy said...

::shivers::

Jenn Thorson said...

Sorry, Daisy, to give you goosebumps under your fur. :)

MikeWJ at Too Many Mornings said...

What a terrific Halloween story! I can't even imagine why somebody would decorate their house in old dolls. Very creepy. Three lines stand out for me:

"And we were down the sidewalk and all the way to Aunt Bess's before you could say Hundred-Thousand-Dollar Bar."

"I followed, a reluctant Lewis and Clark, peering through my styrofoam eye-ball slits to watch the plastic piked heads watch me as I passed."

"There were naked dolls, decapitated dolls, and heads alone... Dolls with soft matted hair, and dolls with no hair at all. In between these, metallic pinwheels spun, like the rides on a traveling carnival... Reflective like a hall of mirrors."

Good stuff, Jenn. And, for me, it's spiders. We had a lot of black-widow spiders in my neighborhood growing up. I'm still scared by spiders, even tiny ones.

Jenn Thorson said...

Mike- Oh, I'm glad you enjoyed it. This time of year gets me thinking about that house. I believe Grace died while I was in college, so I never saw what became of her "exterior decor."

And black widows-- wow, yes, I can understand where you'd have a very legitimate concern there.

Unfinished Rambler said...

I'd like to say that your wonderful writing blocked that image out of my head, but alas...I can't say that's true. While your writing was, and is, wonderful as always, your choice of photo will haunt me for several nights. Thanks a lot (as I go running away screaming).

Jenn Thorson said...

UnfinishedDude- Ah, yeah- that picture was taken outside this creepy shop in New Hope, NJ. It had all sorts of weird old dolls and funereal items and Victorian mourning jewelry, etc. As I didn't have a photo of the Doll Lady's house, I had to make do.

Leeuna said...

A great story Jenn. Very Halloweenish and creepy. I love those old spooky houses with weird occupants. Being scared on Halloween was always part of the fun. :)

Jenn Thorson said...

Leeuna- Muchos gracias! Absolutely, it was, too! Even the build-up to it with all the scary movies on TV was a favorite part of it.

ReformingGeek said...

We were afraid of the houses that had a "monster" sitting in a chair outside the door. We just knew it was a real person and they were going to jump up and scream.

I love your story although I will be looking at my doll collection a bit differently on Halloween.

madtexter said...

OMG! I completely got the visual. I actually imagined and wished I was there with you at the time. Every neighborhood has an old lady like that, and as much as she seems (or is purported to be), there's always that little part of you that just WANTS TO KNOW!! Is she a freak, or is she a FREAK!

And your neighbor who worked at the M&M's factory...SCORE! You know his kids were the most popular in the hood.

C.B. Jones said...

I managed to instill this strange fear of reese's pieces in some of my friends. I told them that eating those things would cause boils, and an insatiable urge to kiss the big ugly female gym teacher with the deep voice.

They gave 'em to me, no questions asked.

Deray said...

"And what in the name of Mattel were we doing standing on the woman's porch?!" jajajajaajaja that cracked me up!

Good and creepy story! My neighborhood has a crazy-super-religious lady with saints figurines on her window, she didn't like children very much so she would yell at us if we hid by her trees or something.

Jenn Thorson said...

Reforming Geek- Oh yes, it's the same reason I didn't like haunted house events. You just knew someone would try to grab you.

MadTexter- I'd love to know what her thought processes were behind the whole doll display. I'm sure she had some rationale at one time. It's a shame we'll never know. And yes, the neighbor from M&M Mars was a GREAT guy. I'd go door-to-door selling band candy, and come away from his house with candy myself!

CB- Ah, you clever fellow! The gym teacher... no greater threat than that! :)

Deray- Ah, yes, many neighborhoods have one of the saint-collectors, as well.

Tony Single said...

Holy mother of cod... someone hold me. :(

Jenn Thorson said...

Tony- Ah, but you look so fearless there in your avatar! Surely you're not a-feared of a little doll, are ya? :)

LiteralDan said...

I would definitely call this a rational fear. You were nuts to step foot on that porch!!

Wish I'd had a Mr. Esposito in MY neighborhood...

Jenn Thorson said...

LiteralDan- In retrospect I realize that. But it was the sugar... Oh, the sugar.