Thursday, April 04, 2019

Weekly Story #39: A Room With Amanda Jane

This is the second reworking of a story I originally wrote for a creative writing class in college. Originally it was set at a hospital and involved no creepy dolls. The doll gave the second version of the story more of a hook. And when I decided it didn't have to be set at a hospital after all, I eliminated the need for a ton of research. The story Candy tells about her hospital stay draws from the second version.

The doll itself, Amanda Jane, is loosely based on a creepy doll that's been passed around by the girls in my family for a long while, and is currently owned by my mom. Not being a girl myself, I can't say Amanda Jane was ever much of a presence in my life, but why waste an opportunity to tell a creepy doll story? When I told my mom I was writing a somewhat mean-spirited story about Amanda Jane, she responded very positively.

 

A ROOM WITH AMANDA JANE

The eyes shone bright and clear in the darkness. Candy could only stare back from the bed, barely able to move with the cast covering her leg. At first the eyes seemed to belong to a short gremlin, a misshapen devil on the cabinet by the window, not caring if she saw it or not. Candy almost screamed right then, but the gremlin had already faded into the black, leaving only the eyes, like those of a hungry cat. If she screamed, it might make its move.

If only Daddy were here. If only she were home. But Candy couldn't go home until her brother Graham got over his flu. Mrs. Powell, their across-the-street neighbor, was kind enough to let Candy stay in her guest room until then, and even left a bell on the bedside table in case Candy needed anything. But it would be too loud. And it was so dark, and Candy was so dizzy from the medicine they gave her, she couldn't find it.

The eyes twitched.

Candy screamed, as loud as her seven-year-old throat could, and swung the bell. She didn't want to die, not with Mommy and Daddy so far away.

The lights came on, and Mrs. Powell appeared at the foot of the bed, in front of where the glowing eyes had been. "Candy, it's okay, I'm here," she said. "Were you having a bad dream?"

"No," Candy said. "There was a gremlin in here, and he was gonna eat me."

Mrs. Powell took a Kleenex and wiped the tears from Candy's face. "That sounds like a bad dream to me."

"No! I was wide awake! Honest! He was right there on top of the—"

Candy pointed, and now saw what she was pointing at. A little porcelain doll with big round eyes, wearing a peach-colored dress, was sitting in a tiny chair on the cabinet by the window. It had been there when they first wheeled Candy into the room. With the pins they put in her leg, and the drugs she took so she wouldn't hurt, she could hardly stand up for very long. She had fallen asleep shortly after arriving, so she'd forgotten the doll was there.

Mrs. Powell let out a little giggle. "Oh, you poor thing, that's just Amanda Jane." She went over and straightened the ruffles in the doll's dress. "My mother used to play with this doll when she was little. Then I played with her when I was little, then I passed her down to Leah. Did you frighten little Candy, Amanda Jane? That wasn't very nice." She turned back toward Candy. "I think she's sorry. She didn't mean it."

Candy set the bell down and sniffed. She could see perfectly well it was just a stupid doll. It didn't have any feelings. Maybe Candy wasn't a bigger girl like Leah, but Mrs. Powell didn't have to make her feel like a baby.

Mrs. Powell was waiting for a response, so Candy said, "It's all right."

"You poor thing. Those painkillers must be doing a number on you. I'll bet you just woke up, but you weren't done dreaming yet."

"I guess so."

"I'll leave Amanda Jane here to watch over you." Mrs. Powell adjusted the doll's back and left it upright in the chair, its big eyes pointed directly at Candy.

"Can you make her look somewhere else?" Candy shivered under her covers.

Mrs. Powell pinched her lips and shook her head, as if wondering why Candy wouldn't want those glassy eyes staring at her. But Mrs. Powell rotated Amanda Jane's head, so she now looked toward the painting across from the foot of the bed. Away from Candy. "There. Now don't worry, Amanda Jane's going to look out for any spooks or goblins or devils out there so they don't hurt you."

Candy pulled up her covers. Again with treating her like a baby. Amanda Jane was just a doll. It wasn't going to watch out for anything.

How could Leah have played with that thing?

Mrs. Powell adjusted Candy's pillow and tucked in her blanket. "How's the leg feeling?"

"Okay, I guess," Candy said. "Kind of aches. I wish Daddy were here." If only her stupid brother hadn't gotten sick. Stupid Graham, always ruining everything.

"Here, I'll be right back." Mrs. Powell left the room and came back with two Advil and a glass of water. Candy sucked the pills into her mouth and gulped the water down.

"I'm turning the lights off now," Mrs. Powell said. "Remember, if you need anything, just ring that bell."

"Okay. Good night." Candy lay back as the light went out, except for a crack of light at the door. Once again Candy was in darkness, with nothing and no one to keep her company.

No one but Amanda Jane.

Amanda Jane with her big, round, glassy eyes. Even at this angle, Candy could see the shine. The doll sat there, as if not only watching…

but waiting.

For what, Candy didn't want to know.

She dug herself deeper into her covers, closed her eyes, and silently cursed whoever made that stupid doll. Then she silently hoped Amanda Jane didn't somehow know what she was thinking.

Of course not. Amanda Jane was just a doll. A doll wasn't going to get up and do anything. Certainly not hurt her.

Right?

Candy couldn't get that doll out of her mind. Every so often she opened her eyes and checked that chair on that cabinet to make sure Amanda Jane hadn't moved. She also checked the clock on her bedside table, and the time hardly seemed to move at all. At this rate she'd never get any sleep. Sunrise was still hours away. Who knows what might happen until then? Amanda Jane might hop out of that chair and try to climb into bed with Candy.

As soon as that thought crossed her mind, Candy knew she couldn't stay in this room. But how to get out? The wheelchair was folded up by the door.

The crutches, on the other hand, were propped up on the foot of the bed. Candy twisted herself around, shifting her cast over the mattress and pulling herself from one end to the other. But she managed to get her hands on the crutches. From there she lowered her good foot to the floor, then the one covered in the cast. She wobbled a bit—the floor felt like it was shifting around under her. Still woozy from the painkillers. But she got the crutches under her arms, and managed to work herself to the door.

Now the question was, where to go?

The closest room was Mr. and Mrs. Powell's, but Candy didn't want to see Mrs. Powell right now. Mrs. Powell would just make her feel like a baby again for getting scared of the doll. Further down, near the staircase, was Leah's room. Candy hesitated at first. What if Leah made fun of her for being scared of Amanda Jane? Plus Leah was in the same class as Graham, so she might even pass it along to him whenever he got back to school. But Candy liked Leah, and would still rather see her than risk going down those stairs to sleep on the couch.

Candy swung her crutches and moved past the bathroom and the antique dollhouse near the balcony. She drifted a little to the side, and had to correct course. If she got too close to the stairs, she might fall and break her leg all over again, or maybe even break something else.

But she made it to Leah's bedroom door. Should she knock? She lifted her arm, and nearly toppled to the side. So instead she grabbed the knob and tried to turn it. But again, the world kept swaying around her. The knob kept slipping out of her grip and clicking back into place.

Then it turned on its own, and the door opened.

"Candy?" Leah rubbed her eye and pulled her hair back. "What's going on? It's 3 AM."

"I can't sleep," Candy said. "Can I come in?"

Leah sighed. "Had a bad dream, huh?"

"I guess so." Might as well let Leah think that. Leah probably still loved Amanda Jane.

"All right, might as well." Leah stood aside and turned on the light, and Candy crutched in. The room was clean and pretty, just as Candy expected from a fifth-grader like Leah. Racecar posters hung on the wall, and in addition to the large basket full of big toys, there was a smaller one on the dresser full of Hot Wheels cars. Candy went over to the bed. Leah took the crutches, propped them up by the window, and went back to the door. "I better go get your wheelchair," she said. "You know, just in case you need it."

"Thank you."

Leah turned the lights back off. There was still enough light through the window from the moon and the street lamps that it didn't feel too scary. Candy didn't go to sleep right away. She wanted to be sure Leah was coming back.

And Leah did return a minute later, rolling the wheelchair in and setting it next to the window along with the crutches.

"Thank you," Candy said again.

"Sure." Leah crawled into bed and yawned. "I'm a little jealous, you know. I wish I could take off from school tomorrow."

"What? You're going to school?"

"Of course I am. It's only Wednesday. Say, how'd your leg get broken, anyway? Graham said you were roller skating?"

"Hm?" Candy shifted her bad leg aside. "Oh, yeah. Daddy took us to the roller rink. I'd never been skating before, and I fell, and it was like, one leg fell on the other. It really hurt."

Leah whistled. "I'll bet it did. What was it like in that hospital?"

"I dunno. It was okay, I guess. I felt really hazy the whole time. Kept falling asleep and waking up. I met a boy with one arm. He had these robot toys that he could put together into a big robot, and he let me play with it."

"That was nice. I'll bring out my toys before I go to school, so you don't get bored."

"Okay…"

"So what was it that got you screaming earlier?" Leah said. "It was Amanda Jane, wasn't it?"

Candy's head perked up. "Yeah, it was! How'd you know?" She remembered what Mrs. Powell said and lowered herself a little. "I'm sorry. I know she used to be yours."

"Are you kidding? She creeps me out big time. It's just Mom still adores her. I saw her in your room just now and figured she freaked you out. I actually forgot she was in there."

"I felt like she was watching me."

"Heh, yeah, same here," Leah said. "But she's a family heirloom, so we can't get rid of her." Leah moved closer. "Don't tell anyone, but sometimes I can hear something moving in that guest room. I could swear I've seen Amanda Jane running around the house, too."

Candy shook. "R-really?"

"Oh yeah," Leah said. "I think she goes into my room when I'm not here, and goes through my stuff."

Candy clutched her pillow.

Leah started chuckling. "I'm kidding. Man, the look on your face!"

"It's not funny."

"Sorry. I know, that was mean. I'll make sure Amanda Jane's put somewhere else before you go to bed tomorrow night. How's that sound?"

"Thank you," Candy said. She shut her eyes, and had a dream that she forgot by morning.

Leah's alarm went off at seven with a shrill beep. Candy woke up as Leah slapped the clock into silence. The sun lit the room almost as well as if the overhead light were on. Leah sat up. "You sleep okay?"

"Uh huh," Candy said. "Thanks again."

"Any time." Leah stood up and stretched. "Just be careful with that cast, okay? You kicked me pretty hard a few times."

"Sorry." Candy looked around the room, her eyes moving from poster to poster, from NASCAR to Indy 500, until they landed on the dresser. On top of that dresser was a small chair, and on that chair was a doll with big glass eyes and a peach-colored dress.

Candy screamed.

Leah clapped her hands to her ears. "Yow! What the heck?"

"Look!" Candy jabbed her finger out.

Leah saw Amanda Jane, and jumped with a shudder. "Oh geez!" She scrabbled back into the bed and buried herself under her comforter, up to her eyes so she could still see the doll. "That was not there when I went to sleep."

"Did she follow us?"

"I hope not." Leah shook. "I swear I was only joking. There's no way she could really…"

Candy wrapped her arms around Leah. "I'm scared."

"It's okay, it's okay. I'm sure there's a perfectly rational explanation for this… Let's just stay calm… and…" Leah sprang out of bed, pulled the case off her pillow, and swept Amanda Jane up inside it. Candy kept her eye on the pillowcase to make sure nothing was moving inside it. Leah placed the bundle inside her closet and shut the door. "There."

"How'd she get in here?"

"Beats me," Leah said. "I mean, she didn't just get up and walk in here." Leah added sheepishly, "Or did she?"

Candy whimpered.

"No, no, you know what? Mom always goes out for a walk at 5 AM. She probably saw that you'd come in here, and thought it'd be cute to bring the doll to look after us. Ugh. If I didn't know better I'd swear she knows it's creepy."

"So the doll isn't alive?"

"No way. But even if she were—" Leah clenched her fist. "I think I can take her. And anyway, who needs a doll to look after you when you got me around? You ready for breakfast?"

Candy nodded. "Uh huh!" After the way she'd dealt with Amanda Jane just now, Candy believed it.

"Here. Climb on." Leah bent over by the bed and let Candy onto her back. "Oof. There. I think I got you. I'll come back for your crutches and everything. I'll bet Graham's never done stuff like this for you."

Candy chuckled. "If he did now, he'd throw up. But you're cooler than he is anyday."

"Appreciate it."

Leah carried Candy out of the bedroom and down the stairs, where Mrs. Powell already had breakfast ready for them. "What was all that screaming about just now?" Mrs. Powell said.

"It was nothing," Candy said. "Leah took care of it."