What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made?
Did you ask an overweight woman if she was pregnant? Or maybe you wrote a nasty email about someone and accidentally sent it to the very person you were complaining about? Maybe, if you’re a girl, you bled through your white pants during that time of the month and everyone you know saw it?
Whatever that mistake was, think about it. Think hard.
And keep it in mind for the rest of this story.
My mom bought it at an antique shop that had just opened up in our neighborhood.
See, she went through this phase where she decided that my sister and I were going to grow up to be “proper ladies.” That meant that she taught us to balance books on our head and how to set a place at the dinner table properly (little forks on the outside, if you didn’t know) and, worst of all, she forced us into dresses with all sorts of frills and lace.
She must have decided that the trinket was something that every girl should have because she brought it home, gushing about how cute it would look on her little angel’s bedside table.
Her “little angel” was my little sister who, in fact, was really a very devilish child, which my mom stubbornly refused to admit.
The trinket that she bought for her was a little music box that played Für Elise by Beethoven. It was square, sculpted all over with gobs and gobs of pink (my sister’s least favorite color), and the top displayed a lithe porcelain ballerina, forever stuck in a pirouette, that twirled to the slow, deep tempo of the music.
My sister hated it.
But she knew better than to say anything to mom about it. Really, our mom meant the best, and she knew that. So she plastered on a laughably terrible fake smile and told our mom that she loved loved LOVED it… all while planning on burying it at the bottom of her toy chest as soon as mom forgot about it.
In the meantime, however, mom made sure that my little sister displayed it proudly next to her bed.
“You can show all your little friends your pretty music box when they come over, won’t that be lovely?!” She squealed.
“Oh!… That’s… great!” My sister managed. Well, no one ever said that she was going to win an Academy Award.
Normally, I would have thought my sister’s plight was hilarious, but for the fact that we shared the same room so I had to live with the box, too. And I’ll be honest, I really didn’t like it.
My sister vocalized my thoughts later that night as we sat in our room together.
“I don’t like this box. It’s pink and it’s creepy.” She held it up in her left hand, her right poking at the ballerina on top. “And why is she so SKINNY?” she huffed. “She looks dead!”
That would have been some perfect time for some healthy sibling torture. “Of course she’s dead, don’t you KNOW what happened to her?” But I couldn’t bring myself to do it when I looked at the creepy little thing. I shuddered before answering, “Yeah, you’re right… it is kind of… strange. I wonder why mom bought it?”
She didn’t answer. Instead, her small hands fumbled with the back of the box until they found their mark. “Let’s see if it works,” she said as she twisted the key.
Well, it… kind of worked. The melody was definitely Für Elise, although it was slower than usual, and some of the notes seemed… off. Like it was played in the wrong key or something. As the music struggled out, the ballerina twirled slowly on the top. The mechanism that spun her must have rusted or something because she didn’t turn very smoothly. She’d turn a little bit, shudder to a stop, and then jolt back to life. It was almost painful to watch.
Once the song had croaked out its last few notes, my sister shoved the box on the table next to her bed and shuddered. “Creepy,” she said. I nodded in agreement.
We had no idea.
My little sister is a heavy sleeper, which worked well for her in college. I am a light sleeper, which has only worked well for me once in my whole life, and it was exactly that night.
It was a really faint sound, too, nothing more than a slight clinking that echoed through our dark room, that woke me up. It jolted me out of sleep, but I would have fallen right back into unconsciousness if it hadn’t persisted.
How annoying, I thought, as I sat up in bed.
I listened for a moment or two to the continued clinking, the darkness in the room a little too deep to penetrate even with the bright moonlight outside our window. A little shard of fear bloomed in my heart as my right hand reached out and fumbled for my lamp switch.
It was hard to see, at first.
The room looked normal. To the right was our door, closed, as it should be. To the left was the window that looked out on the backyard. Directly opposite my bed was my little sister’s, and next to it sat the nightstand and the music box.
No, wait, the music box.
I blinked a few times, as though by magic I could will her to reappear. But there was no such luck. Amid the pink porcelain and intricate etching, there was an empty space where she should have been poised and ready to twirl.
On instinct, I looked over at my sister.
And, surprisingly enough, I found the ballerina instead. I almost wasn’t sure what it was, at first – she was no longer frozen in her pirouette, but was crawling over my little sister’s face, her porcelain hands digging at my sister’s lips. My sister opened her mouth in response and I watched the little dancer begin to wiggle her way inside her mouth.
“What the… CHRISSIE! CHRISSIE, WAKE UP!” I shrieked.
I scrambled off my bed as my sister thrashed awake, looking at me with blind confusion. Her face contorted and she started choking around the piece of porcelain lodged in her throat.
“CHRISSIE, DON’T MOVE!” I yelled. I reached her side in half a second and grabbed the back of her hair in my fist, the other hand reaching down into her mouth just in time to grab one of the ballerina’s feet.
Chrissie began to gag as I pulled at the ballerina. I heard a strange shrieking noise coming from my sister’s mouth, and I knew it wasn’t her. It was the fucking doll. It shrieked and screamed and I saw Chrissie’s face turn white. She started to scream too and I panicked and I pulled and pulled…
I finally pulled the ballerina free. With her came a gush of blood as Chrissie began to cough violently. I stared at the doll squeezed in my fist and noticed that its hands were decorated with chunks of flesh.
The doll’s expressionless face twisted up to look at me and I shouted, startled. It looked the same as before – a bland face with painted eyes and lips – but this time I noticed a hole in the center of those lips. The shrieking sound emanated from it.
Then, the doll began to thrash. My hand opened reflexively and it scuttled away, slipping under the crack in our door and out into the hallway. I stared after it in disbelief as my sister sobbed and coughed out blood next to me.
The door flew open a moment later and my mother and father burst into the room. They reacted much better to Chrissie’s blood than I did – they always managed to stay calm in an emergency, a skill that I didn’t inherit. Dad gathered her in his arms and held her in the front seat as mom rushed us to the emergency room.
It wasn’t until about two hours later, after the doctors had examined Chrissie and found that her throat wouldn’t sustain permanent damage, that mom asked me what had happened.
I told her. She didn’t believe me.
I told dad. He didn’t believe me.
We went in to see Chrissie. She’d been sedated because she was hysterical, prompting the doctors to insist that she remain overnight for observation, but that didn’t stop them from asking her.
She told my mother. My mother glanced nervously at my father.
She told my father. My father’s face went a strange shade of gray.
They had no choice but to believe us.
When we went back home the next day, the ballerina was still missing from the box. That was the final nail in the coffin, so to speak.
Dad searched the house high and low for that figurine, but he didn’t find it. He never found it.
Mom tried to convince Chrissie that it was safe to sleep in our room, but she wasn’t having it. She wouldn’t step foot near the door and she’d scream at the mere mention of the music box.
Eventually, the situation got to all of us. None of us wanted to remain in that house. So we did what any normal American family would do: we packed up our shit and left. Moved. About two cities over, where evil porcelain dolls couldn’t attack us in our sleep.
And my mother smashed that music box.
“I’m so sorry,” She told us the first night in our new home, “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. I should never have bought that damned box. I’m so, so sorry.”
I never told anyone that story. I had this strange feeling that saying it aloud would bring it to life somehow, or maybe bring it back into my world just when I thought the danger was gone.
Turns out I needn’t have worried about attracting it.
Last night, I awoke to a strange noise. A clinking noise. Followed by the stutter of something hard scuttling across the floorboards of my room.
You remember the worst mistake you’ve ever made?
Well, here’s mine:
I should have smashed that fucking ballerina when I had the chance.