I couldn’t really tell you the exact moment we noticed the hiss. It was somewhere around the time my family moved into a rundown apartment on the South side. The previous tenants left some boxes in their haste to avoid paying the rent. Most of it was worthless junk but being the sort of enterprising folks who utilize ‘found treasure’, we kept some of it. We were almost penniless and every little bit helped. One of those items was a small plastic doll.
It was the sort of cheap ‘Barbie’ knockoff you’d see in a dollar store clearance aisle. My little sister played with that ugly hunk of rubber more than any other toy she ever had. She eventually developed an unhealthy fixation on it but just like a child’s security blanket, it wasn’t going to be easy to separate her from it. Around that time we first noticed a very creepy, irregular hiss in the apartment.
It always seemed to be coming from my sister’s bedroom but we could never locate the source of it. No one made the connection with the doll because it wasn’t the sort of child’s toy which came with a sound module. It was too cheaply made for that; and it’s not like it was some evil looking ventriloquist dummy or a voodoo doll either. It wasn’t threatening at all. It was just an ordinary looking girl’s ‘fashion’ toy.
A few times my mother tried to toss it into the trash but Tracey threw a hissy fit once she noticed it missing. Strangely, Tracey found it herself buried deeply in the garbage. How she knew to look there, we didn’t know. Mom quickly learned ‘Shelly’ was off limits to her spring cleaning.
The three of us made do with what ever we could. Money was very tight for a mother and two daughters on a single parent income. I wasn’t old enough to work and Mom was killing herself slowly at a thankless, low paying factory job. Honestly, the mysterious noise wasn’t in our top 100 worries. Having enough to eat far outweighed some unexplained sound. We just shrugged it off as a bad plumbing or flooring quirk of our dilapidated apartment building.
Tracey had been telling us the doll ‘spoke to her’ all along but we just nodded dismissively. “That’s what they do.”; We assured her. Neither of us dreamed she was serious. We chalked it up to the vivid imagination of an 8 year old girl with a shortage of fun things to play with. One day I heard it again and decided to investigate a little deeper into what was causing it.
My sister was on the floor with her ‘friend’ against her ear like it was a telephone receiver. Only then did I finally realize where the unexplained noise was coming from. I moved a little closer to confirm my suspicions but it stopped abruptly. I don’t think Tracey heard me enter the room but she turned around to face me like she knew I was there. It was like the damn doll had tipped her off!
“Does Shelly always make that odd hissing noise when you squeeze it?”; I asked. I assumed it was caused by trapped air escaping through the ‘mouth’. Only later did I realize it was a solid piece of molded rubber. Tracey seemed a little nervous by my question. I wasn’t sure why she reacted that way but I figured it out by what she said next.
“Shelly was just telling me about the previous family who lived here. They were ‘bad’ people. They did things that would get them in deep trouble with the police. Shelly made them move far, far away so they wouldn’t hurt anyone else, ever again.”
Her matter-of-fact tone worried me. It was delivered with the devout sincerity of a true believer in the magic of a talking doll. I had no doubt she felt she was telling the truth but some of that could be chalked up to a child’s tenuous grasp of reality. They are quick to accept fairy tales as truth but blind acceptance in fantasy erodes later with the age of reason. Regardless of my greater number of life experiences, I couldn’t explain how Tracey knew the discarded ‘barbie’ was in the trash, or what caused the strange hissing.
In an effort to engage my sister’s logical thinking, I asked if Shelly might ‘tell’ me things too. Tracey looked concerned, as if my question was inherently dangerous to even consider. She reacted as if I had broached a deep, thought provoking topic. Without asking, I picked up her little ‘friend’ and put it up to my ear, the same way she’d been ‘listening’ earlier. Tracey almost choked. Presumably the reaction was from me picking up ‘Shelly’.
I expected to hear a louder version of the nondescript ‘radio-static I’d heard earlier but it wasn’t like that at all. I can’t describe my frenzied state of mind when I realized it was actually saying things; and not just prerecorded phrases. It was really talking! I dropped the cursed thing like a hot potato burning my hands. Tracey was visibly shaken but I could tell she wasn’t concerned about her doll. She was concerned about how dropping it might affect me!
“You should be more careful sis. Shelly doesn’t like to be dropped. You wouldn’t want her to get mad. She can do ‘things’. Powerful things.”
I backed away slowly. I had to regroup and figure out how to convince our mother that Tracey’s innocent looking toy was somehow possessed by a malevolent spirit. It wasn’t going to be easy. Who would believe such a bizarre thing? It took everything I had to not grab it and throw it out the window but I knew Tracey was totally bewitched by it. I had to find a way to break it’s tight little spell on her. Until then, I had to pretend to be on board with the spiritual seduction of my little sister. I didn’t want to think what unknown force was inhabiting that inanimate slab of rubberized plastic.
Predictably, our Mom only heard Tracey’s part of the conversation at first. We ‘see’ and hear what we want to see and hear. Then Mom thought Tracey was somehow doing both parts of the conversation. It was a subtle form of denial because to believe such a thing is inviting madness. Eventually she had to accept it. Just like me, Mom wanted to snatch up the doll and destroy it in the incinerator but I convinced her that Tracey would have another meltdown. We needed to play it smart.
We had to rationalize with her about things until she could see clearly for herself. If we went at it directly, it would backfire and we’d also bear the wrath of the doll. There was no telling what that might entail but the disappearance of the previous tenants suggested crossing ‘Shelly’ was a very dangerous proposition. There had to be a way to pry it and its consuming influence away from Tracey without all of us paying in unmentionable ways.
First, we approached Tracey about it in a non confrontational, non threatening way. Her guard would ordinary be way up; and whatever thing inhabited the doll would also suspect a separation plot from us.
We asked if Shelly would let us know if there was going to be bad weather anytime soon. Unexpectedly, Tracey informed us via her ‘window into the future’ that “a strong thunderstorm was immanent”.
Sure enough, only a few minutes later the storm started and it was a doozy. My Mom and I realized that ‘it’ had a real grasp of future events. As a clairvoyant entity (among other frightened possibilities), it didn’t pay to underestimate the dark powers it obviously had. Tracey relayed a number of messages and warnings from her unidentified rubber friend. We didn’t dare cross it, for fear of finding ourselves in a similar fate to that of our apartment predecessors.
Over the next few weeks, we were notified about car accidents nearby, stock market fluctuations, crimes in progress, and a number of financial investment opportunities. Nervously at first, we heeded the advice of a possessed dime store doll. My mom had squirreled away a small nest-egg for monetary emergencies. Based on the impressive accuracy of previous revelations, she bet all she had on a horse race.
The horse won and Mama made a bundle of money. ‘Shelly’ had done right by all of us, but we were still very nervous about ‘it’ being so close to Tracey. With as much tact as she could muster, Mama asked my sister to inquire what ‘Shelly’ was. Tracey was puzzled. She still saw the world in a very linear way. On the surface, Shelly was a talking doll. She wasn’t old enough to realize it was a thing that shouldn’t be.
“Just ask her WHAT she is.”; I reiterated. “She’ll know what we mean, ok?” Tracey nodded and whispered approximately where the doll’s ear would be, if it was a living creature. Then she switched places and put her ear against the mouth to hear the response. Immediately her eyes lit up in expressive recognition of a significant point. Mom and I couldn’t begin to imagine what the doll told her. Frankly, we were terrified at the possibilities.
“Shelly says that the truth to your question wouldn’t satisfy you. You either trust that she is benevolent (she stumbled over the word but we knew what she meant), or you do not. She says you’d be wise to tread carefully. She can be an invaluable asset or an unrelenting enemy.”
Mom and I looked at each other and swallowed hard. The way Tracey tripped over how to say ‘enemy’ might have been cute under more innocent circumstances. It was our worst fears imagined. Actually, it was much worse than that. Neither of us could’ve dreamed of such a thing. Some unidentified spirit had taken up residence in my sister’s doll, and more importantly, deep in her heart. Any uncertainty about this creature’s potential for malice had been confirmed with that thinly-veiled threat. ‘Shelly’ meant business.
With the money Mama won at the races, she was able to move us to a much safer neighborhood, uptown. Any thought we might’ve had of ‘accidentally’ leaving Tracey’s creepy little rubber ‘friend’ behind was quickly squashed. We were reminded that that money-making and safety tips from Shelly were a prime example of ‘the carrot’. With it being spelled out in those terms, we didn’t want to discover the sting of ‘the stick’. We reluctantly decided it was in everyone’s best interest that ‘Shelly’ stay with our family as long as she desired.
It’s an uncomfortable situation but we know the rules now. Last week she arranged for Tracey to receive full tuition to a prestigious private elementary school. That’s another gift which we can’t be critical about. If you’d told me a year ago my family would be accepting supernatural protection and spirit guidance from a whispering rubber doll, I would’ve thought you were mad. Now you probably think I am. That’s fine. Just don’t make Shelly angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.