I was always creeped out when I visited my Aunt’s house. My brother made me watch the Shinning when I was only five. My Aunt’s daughters looked exactly the same as the ones in the film. That alone was enough for me to feign sickness when I was told where we were going. Unfortunately that only worked a couple of times, until my mum got wind and made me go no matter how much I played up.
When I did have to go, I spent the time literally clinging to my Dad’s leg, like an overexcited dog. My cousins rarely came down to say hello. If they did, I’d go white and my mum would finally believe I was sick. That never stopped her taking me though.
We went to leave my Aunt’s one day and my mother said, “Sorry, honey, you have to stay. Your Dad and I have something we need to go to. It’s only for a couple of days.”
I was speechless. My dad left the house and came back with my little Thomas the Tank Engine suitcase. I was mortified. I cried more than I’d ever done before. And as I did, the twins came down the stairs and stood there, in their matching blue dresses, just like the film. And I cried more.
My aunt came over to try and console me. She knelt in front and said, “It’s okay Ben, your parents will be back tomorrow night. You remember Jessica and Jennifer?” She gestured over to them, “You can play with them.”
They smiled at me. I’m sure it was innocent, but in that moment they appeared the most evil things I had ever laid eyes on. And I cried some more.
I remember watching the clock tick that evening as my aunt watched the television. A minute had never felt so long. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but the second hand goes backwards slightly before it finishes its journey to the next second, and in that moment, I thought it was going to stop before changing direction completely.
“It’s bedtime now,” my aunt announced, “your suitcase is in Jennifer and Jessica’s room.”
My eyes glazed over, but I fought back the tears.
“Oh honey, they won’t bite, they are really nice. Let me take you up there.”
Reluctantly I took her hand and made our way up stairs. The staircase was so grand and loomed down at me, its varnished wood imposing and cold. The steps so large, it was like climbing a mountain.
The door to their room was open. They sat on the bed, hands in their lap, as if they anticipated my arrival. They were so much taller and older than me. I saw the camp bed that had been set up next to their bed. My green sleeping bag all ready for me. My suitcase was open on the floor of the bedroom. I felt violated. My drawing book and comics spread open and read.
“You’ll take good care of Ben, won’t you girls?” my aunt offered.
They nodded in unison, broad grins revealing matching braces.
“I’ll see you in the morning,” my aunt said, prodding me into the room, closing the door behind me.
I turned and stared at my cousins, tears rushing into my eyes. I concentrated as hard as I could to keep them down.
“Don’t go through my stuff!” I shouted, zipping my suitcase, before dragging it over the floor, pushing it under the camp bed. I clambered onto the bed and slipped straight into the sleeping bag, pulling it up to my chin, squeezing my eyes shut.
“Would you like to play a game,” one of them said.
I shook my head.
“We have Mouse Trap?”
I shook my head again.
I heard a sigh.
“Would you like to meet our sister?”
“No!” the other one said.
“Come on, it will be fun,” the first one replied.
“He’s scared of us as it is.”
“Hey Ben? Would you like to meet our sister?”
I opened my eyes.
“See! He’s interested.”
One of the sisters stood by the door. The other sat on the bed.
“You don’t have to,” she said.
“There’s only two of you,” I replied, intrigued.
“Our other sister lives in the toy box.”
“Jennifer stop it,” Jessica said.
I looked over at Jessica, she rolled her eyes.
“Please, Jennifer, that’s enough.”
“I’ll leave that up to Ben.”
“Where is she?”
“She’s in the toy box.”
“This isn’t funny, Jennifer, you’ll get us into trouble.”
I sat up, frightened, but excited.
Jennifer walked over to the wooden box in the corner of the room and knocked on the lid three times.
I gripped my sleeping bag, mesmerised. The air felt thick with anticipation as I stared at the box.
Then the reply, knock knock knock.
I began to scream. Jessica trust her hand over my mouth.
“Shhhh,” she said, “What did I tell you Jennifer!”
Jennifer sprouted a mischievous smile and heavy footsteps could be heard outside the room.
“What’s going on in here?”
“Nothing,” Jennifer replied.
“Ben, are you okay?”
I nodded, Jessica’s hand now firmly hidden behind her back.
My aunt studied everyone’s faces before becoming satisfied and leaving.
“Now no more noise, it’s bed time.”
She turned off the light and closed the door. Only a small dull nightlight illuminated the room.
The sisters got into bed.
“That was mean,” Jessica said.
“He wanted to meet her though,” Jennifer responded.
“No he didn’t, you made him.”
Jessica leaned over the side of the bed, “I’m so sorry, my sister is not very nice.”
“It’s okay,” I said, looking up at her. For the first time in my life I saw her as another person, and not the evil twin from the Shinning.
I closed my eyes. But all I could think of was the knocking on the toy box. I could hear it again in my head.
“Look what you’ve done, you’ve upset her,” Jessica said.
That’s when I realised the sounds weren’t make believe but were coming from the toy box.
“Just try to sleep, she’ll stop,” Jennifer said.
But the knocking got louder and louder.
“Mum’s going to hear.”
“Shhh, just try to sleep, she’ll stop.”
But the knocking didn’t. It just got louder and louder, until Jennifer got out of bed. I sat up again. She opened the wooden box, and put her hand in. I was half expecting to see a shrivelled corpse stand up, but what I saw was Jennifer picking up a doll. It was dressed in an identical blue dress, small white socks on its feet and its head bandaged up.
“Oh my God,” I said.
“Don’t worry,” Jennifer said, “that’s so she can’t see. You don’t want her to see.”
“She’ll sleep with us tonight,” Jennifer said, hugging the doll and returning to bed.
“It’s okay, Jane. We’re all here. Who’s that in the bed over there? That’s our cousin Ben… No he doesn’t belong here, but he’s staying here tonight.”
“Stop it, Jennifer, you’re scaring him.”
I was scared. I pulled the sleeping bag over my head and silently cried. I don’t know when I fell asleep, but when I woke, it was morning.
My eyes hurt when I pulled back the sleeping bag. The curtains let in the mid morning sun and lit the place up. I turned to face the wall and something touched my hand. I felt around, it felt squishy and made of fabric. I grabbed it and brought it to my face. It was the doll, Jane. The bandages were gone, her face was burnt and deformed. I screamed.
“She likes you,” Jennifer said, appearing in the doorway. I threw the doll across the room and ran out. I could hear her laughing behind me.
My aunt greeted me at the bottom of the stairs as I began to fall. She caught me.
“It’s Jane, it’s Jane,” I said.
“What have you girls been telling him?” my aunt shouted.
The sisters stayed silent.
I spent the rest of the day in the living room, watching cartoons. My aunt did her best to make me feel at home, but the minutes dragged. I tried to watch the TV, but my eyes always returned to the clock, watching the second hand labour around its face until my parents arrived early in the evening.
As soon as the door opened, I ran and latched onto my dad’s leg.
“What’s happened?” my mother asked.
“I’m so sorry, I think the girls may have scared him with ghost stories.”
“Can we go now please?”
“Can I have a word with you?” My aunt asked my mother.
“Sure, you go wait in the car with your dad.”
I was happy to leave that place and never come back.
My mother joined us a few minutes later and we drove off.
“What were you so upset about?” she asked.
“Jane, she scared me.”
“The doll from the toy box.”
My dad scoffed, “A doll scared you? Come on son.”
“It was in my bed.”
They both laughed. That was the last time I visited my aunt.
She died when I was twelve. We went back, my parents meeting the other members of my family to divide up her belongings, she hadn’t left a will.
I spent the time outside the house on my skateboard, waiting for them to finish. When they did, they came out with three cardboard boxes. I got back in the car and waited for them to load up the boot.
“We’ve got a surprise for you,” my mother said as we drove off.
“What is it?”
“You’ll have to wait until we get home.”
Excited, I looked in the rear view mirror expectantly, wondering what they had got me.
When we arrived home they unloaded the boot, I went up to my room to play video games.
“Ben, would you come downstairs?”
I paused my game and ran to the living room.
“What is it?”
“The girls have gone to college, they said you’d love this.”
I stopped in my tracks.
The wooden toy box sat in the middle of the living room.
“I don’t want that!” I demanded.
“Don’t be silly,” my dad said, “I’ll put it in your room.”
“No! I don’t want that anywhere near me!”
He opened it, “you can store you games in there, you wanted something like this. You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” he said, lugging the heavy wooden box up the stairs.
A few days later we went to my aunt’s funeral. Jennifer and Jessica led the eulogy before my mother stood up and praised her sister and the lovely daughters she had brought up.
She was the first person I knew who had died. I didn’t know how to feel. My mother cried throughout, my dad holding her hand before gripping her shoulders and doing his best to keep her upright. The coffin was slowly lowered into the grave, the grave diggers then gently filling the hole with dirt.
“Who’s that?” I asked my mother, pointing to the grave marked Mary Grovener next to my aunt’s.
“Mary was her daughter.”
“I thought she only had twins?”
“No, she had triplets.”
“What do you mean?”
“Mary-Jane, she died of whooping cough when she was still a baby, she was Jennifer and Jessica’s sister.”
I was in a daze for the rest of the day. I attended the wake, I barely spoke with anyone. Jessica and Jennifer were there, but they kept their distance, and I went home.
I waited until my parents went to bed, then with all my might, picked up the wooden toy box, and carried it into the basement where it stays to this day.
I live here now with my own son, my parents unfortunately in the same graveyard as my aunt and Mary. He’s asked me if it’s okay he plays with Jane. I’ve told him no. He’s asked to go down into the basement, and I tell him never to go down there. But it’s only a matter of time before he does.