What’s the most terrifying thing that ever happened to you?

For the longest time, I thought I’d seen almost anything and there weren’t a lot of things that would still scare me. Oh, how wrong I was.

I’d laugh about the entire thing, at how ridiculous it was, if it hadn’t been so terrifying.

Now let’s get something out of the way. I’m not exactly a productive member of society. No, I’m a thief or a burglar to be more precise.

I do most of my jobs with another guy, Frank. We’ve been partners for almost a year. The guy’s a junky and a total nutjob. Usually, I’d never work with someone as unhinged as him, but Frank’s somehow able to find the juiciest targets.

A couple of weeks ago he told me he’d found a new target. It was an old, remote mansion in the middle of nowhere.

“Used to belong to one of those rich, noble families back in the day. By now there’s only an old woman living there. Heard she’s filthy rich, never married, and lives all on her own.”

“How the hell are you able to find out these things?”

Frank gave me a wink and showed me a toothy grin.

“Well, secret of the trade. Now listen, this one might be our juiciest target, yet. I’m not talking about cash, of course. From what I learned, the place is filled with pricy artwork, jewelry, and many other things those rich folks collect.”

What can I say, I was always pressed on money, so I was in.

We had to travel half the country, but Frank assured me it was worth it.

We went by the usual protocol:

First, we put up camp nearby at a location where no one would find us. Then we’d keep the place under surveillance for a couple of days to learn as much as possible. Who goes in, who goes out, when and where, and how tight security is. Information is king in this profession.

We spent half a week spying on the place, but we saw no one entering or leaving. The only thing that proved that anyone was living there was one lonely light on the second floor. Each evening, as soon as the sun had set, it went on. Almost like clockwork.

What I’d been most worried about was security. The rich folks knew that there were people like us out there, so many of them went to some lengths to protect themselves. I’d expected this mansion to be no different.

As it turned out though, my worries were unfounded. Our surveillance revealed that there was no security at all.

The entire place was ripe for the taking.

We made our break on a Thursday evening. Things always went better on weekdays.

We snuck up to the backside of the place in the night’s cover and hurried to one of the enormous windows.

Breaking in was child’s play. The windows were so old it took only a minute before it swung wide open.

We’d known that the place was huge, but we were still stunned by the giant, lavish hallway we entered.

The floor was made of rich wood paneling while the ceiling was decorated with similar rich inlays. As I let my eyes wander around, I noticed the paintings that covered the walls.

I stepped up to one of them and had a closer look. It was a relatively simple painting of a young girl. Upon closer inspection, I could tell that it wouldn’t be worth a thing.

As Frank and I continued I had a look at some of the other paintings. They were all the same, all depicting young girls.

We checked some rooms as we passed them, but they were all sparely furnished. What I noticed though was that they too were decorated by similar paintings. From what I’d seen so far, there had to be dozens, if not hundreds of them.

Before long we gave up on the rooms and decided to make our way straight to the second floor. That’s where the old woman had to be.

Most of the time the best way to find out where people kept their valuables was to ask them nicely. The second best way was to ask them not so nicely. Searching the entire place on your own was a very distant third.

It wasn’t long before we found a humongous staircase that led us to the second floor. As we stared upward, we could see the slight glimmer of light that escaped from under the door.

I couldn’t help but smile. Gotcha, I thought.

When I pushed open the heavy door, we set foot into a study. Old, heavy bookshelves lined the walls. The old woman was sitting in a cozy armchair in front of a fireplace at the back of the room. She didn’t even seem to notice us when we entered.

As we stepped closer, I heard her reading out loud from a book in her hands. At first, I thought a child was sitting in her lap, but after a moment I realized that it was a doll. More specifically, the doll of a young girl with bright red hair.

For a while, I watched the curious sight from afar before I stepped closer and made my presence known.

“How about you put the book down, lady,” I said.

She didn’t seem scared or even surprised to see us.

“Well, what brings you two young gentlemen to this place at this late hour?”

For a moment I stared at her. She didn’t seem to understand what was happening and didn’t seem to be in the right state of mind.

“It’s simple. Tell us where you keep your valuables and nothing bad happens.”

When she didn’t say a thing Frank went forward and ripped the book from her hands.

“You listening, you old bitch? You better not make us wait,” he spat at her, staring right into her eyes with a sardonic grin on his face.

We’d perfected the good guy, bad guy routine, but I knew Frank had no problem hurting people. He was a tough guy and used to be a street thugh, the type who’d do anything if the money was right. I still remembered how he’d beaten some poor schmuck half to death when he didn’t tell us where his money was.

It took a few moments, but finally, the old lady seemed to understand what was going on. She was mumbling to herself while she stared at Frank and then at me.

Frank pushed his face closer to hers and put his huge hands on the armrests to either side of her.

“Now then, how about you spill the fucking beans?”

Her eyes rested on Frank.

“Cash, jewelry, anything else. Where do you keep it? I’d rather not have to ask again,” I said in as friendly a voice as I could muster.

“In the bedroom, at the end of the hallway,” she pressed out and pointed to a door with one of her thin arms.

“Please take good care of our host,” I said to Frank who nodded and clenched and unclenched his hands in front of her.

“Well then, I’ll have a look and see if you told me the truth, mam. I hope you did. None of us wants things to get ugly, right?”

As I said this, I made my way towards the door she’d pointed at, one step at a time.

This was usually when people broke. It doesn’t help to have someone like Frank standing in front of you. The old lady kept quiet, though. I was torn between admiration for keeping it together so well and believing she’d told me the truth right away.

The hallway was longer than I’d expected. There were a few rooms to either side, but I didn’t bother with them.

Her bedroom was as big as the study had been. I didn’t understand why anyone would need one that large, especially if it was almost empty. There was nothing except a wardrobe, two cupboards, and a bed in here.

I went straight for the first cupboard. What I found was nothing but useless crap. It was filled with old newspaper clippings, handwritten notebooks, and pictures. There was no hint of any jewelry in there. The second one was the same. I found a few necklaces and some earrings, but it was all cheaply made. Once you’ve been in this profession for a while you developed an eye for those things. Most fakes are easily spotted and this stuff here wasn’t even trying to be anything else.

As I moved to the wardrobe, Frank cursed loudly, and I soon heard his footsteps in the hallway. A moment later he barged into the room. His eyes were wide and all the color had vanished from his face.

“The hell are you doing here? Why aren’t you watching the old bitch?”

“Jesus fuck man, the freaking thing talked to me out of nowhere!”

“What are you talking about?”

“The freaking doll, man! The one on her lap!”

“All right man, what the hell’s the matter with you? You never heard about talking dolls? They’ve got some sort of-“

“No,” he started, shaking his head vehemently, “this shit was different! Didn’t sound like no recorded voice! And then the thing fucking booked it! Ran straight out of the room!”

He looked straight at me and I could tell how terrified he was.

“Something’s wrong with this place, I tell you,” he went on.

I stared at him and wondered how high he was to come up with something like a freaking haunted doll.

“Frank what are you-?” I asked as he took out a small plastic bag with a variety of pills in it.

“Shut the hell up. Shit gives me the creeps, got to calm down somehow.”

I turned away and made my way back to the study only to find the armchair empty.

“Shit! The fucking bitch’s gone. Why the hell did you have to leave her alone? Jesus, man,” I yelled back at him, but I got no answer.

This wasn’t good at all. I could already imagine her on the phone with the cops. Shit, we hadn’t even found any valuables yet.

I rushed from the study and towards the stairs, but there was no hint of her anywhere. Bitch’s freaking fast, I thought.

At this moment Frank appeared next to me.

“So you finally,” I started but broke off when I saw his face. This wasn’t good. He was out of it.

As I said, Frank was a nutjob. Most of the time he was fine, but on drugs, there was no saying what he’d do. Dammit, this would get ugly.

When he started down the stairs, I followed him without another word.

Now, where the hell did she run off to? We checked the rooms to our left and right but found all of them to be empty.

We’d just checked another room when I heard someone mumbling from down the hallway. It sounded like someone was mumbling to themselves. It had to be the damned old bitch.

As soon as Frank heard it, his steps became faster, and I heard him cursing to himself.

Suddenly, Frank stopped in his tracks. At first, I didn’t see why he’d stopped, but then I saw it. It was the little doll who’d been sitting on the old woman’s lap before. It sat there, leaning against the wall, its head tilted into our direction.

“That’s the damn thing,” Frank cursed and stayed well clear of it as he continued.

I had taken only a few steps when I heard a childlike voice from behind me.

“Why are you ignoring me, mister robber?”

I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up as I turned around. There was no one here except Frank, me and that damned doll, right? I’d half expected to find a child standing behind me, but there was only the doll. I could’ve sworn its head was different now, as if it had turned to look after me.

It’s just your imagination, I told myself, but right at this moment, the doll’s tiny mouth opened again.

“Cat got your tongue?”

With that, the thing jumped to its tiny porcelain feet. For a moment it stared at me before it giggled and ran down the hallway in front of me.

“Catch me if you can,” its voice trailed off as it vanished.

I lost my balance and stumbled against the wall. I’m not the type to get scared easily and have seen my share of terrible things; people beaten half to death, torture, and at least one murder. This right here, though, was different.

You might not believe me, but I’ve seen nothing as terrifying as this piece of porcelain, this inanimate object, getting up and running away. The worst was the fucking giggling. Frank was right, there was no way this had been a recording.

“Frank, where the fuck are you?” I called out down the hallway.

He stumbled out from a room only to rush into another one.

“The hell are you doing? Let’s get out of here!” I yelled after him.

I was scared shitless of whatever was going on and for a moment I considered running off and leaving him behind. Then, after a few moments, I cursed and went after him.

The room he’d entered was huge, far bigger than anything I’d seen so far. In the dark, you couldn’t even make out the walls.

The only thing I saw was the old lady standing right in front of us. She was still wearing the same nightgown, and I saw how skinny she was. Her arms and legs were as thin as sticks while the rest of her body was strangely bloated. For a moment I even thought I saw something move below her nightgown.

I averted my eyes in disgust only to notice the little red-haired doll peeking out from behind her.

“You’ve done very well my dear, little girl,” the old lady said, smiling at the doll before she picked her up.

The little thing in her arms giggled and hid her face behind her hands for the moment as if in embarrassment.

I was frozen, not sure what to make of the surreal sight in front of me.

Frank on the other hand was beyond all such things as worry and fear. Without so much as a second thought, he stepped forward.

“That’s it, you damn thing,” he screamed and ripped the doll from the old woman’s arms. The little voice changed from giggling to a scream as Frank raised her high above his head. A second later he brought the doll down onto the ground. Bits and pieces of porcelain flew everywhere.

“Fuck you,” Frank yelled again and again, as he stomped on the remains of the doll.

The old woman screeched, but before she could do anything, Frank hit her square in the face with all the force he could muster. There was an audible crack, and I saw her go down like a wet sack.

“Frank, let’s-“ I started but broke off when I saw the slumped down body of the old woman move again.

I gasped, waited for her to get up again, but instead, I saw a multitude of small dolls rush out from under the nightgown. Each one of them was holding a part of her, leaving nothing but the old nightgown behind.

“Now you’ve done it,” I heard one of them mimic in the old woman’s voice. They all stared at me and Frank before they giggled as the red-haired doll had.

“You will never get out of here,” they yelled at us in a cacophony of high-pitched childlike voices.

Right at that moment, the entire room started to shake. I thought it would collapse, but then the lights went on.

That’s when I saw what had caused it. The walls of the room were covered in dolls. There were too many to count; hundreds, maybe thousands of them. I watched in horror as they all sprang to life.

A moment later they rushed forward into mine and Frank’s direction.

“Frank, run!” I screamed at him, but I saw that the dolls who’d made up the old lady jumped onto him. He tore them off and threw them to the ground, but more and more of the tiny white bodies closed in on him.

“You fucking pieces of-“ he screamed, throwing them left and right but was soon buried below them.

At that moment I ran from the room and rushed down the hallway. I soon found myself at the staircase again.

“Shit,” I cursed to myself and was about to turn around, to find the window we’d entered from.

That’s when I heard it.

It was the most ridiculously terrifying sound you can imagine. The scampering of thousands of little feet and legs.

Only moments later I saw an army of white porcelain bodies rush towards me. Their bright colorful dresses and innocent, smiling faces made it so, so much worse.

The worst was the giggling. A cacophony of thousands of little voices, all giggling happily as they rushed towards me.

At that moment my instincts took over. My consciousness was pushed back, and I watched as my body functioned on autopilot. I ran. I was in the study, then in the hallway that led to the bedroom. A moment later I found myself in one of the rooms to the left. I didn’t understand where I was even going. My mind was a complete and utter blank.

What saved me from ending up like Frank was a window. As I heard the porcelain army getting closer, I threw myself through the glass without so much as a second thought.

I don’t know what would’ve happened if not for the bushes I landed in. The crash pushed all the air from my lungs and my arm was twisted below me. I screamed up in pain and for a moment everything went black. Then I fought myself up and ran from the mansion.

I have no idea how long I ran, but at one point I collapsed in exhaustion.

When I woke up, I jerked to my feet, half-expecting myself to be back at the mansion, surrounded by an army of small dolls.

Instead, I was in a meadow and the sun was already up.

I didn’t know where I was or where I should go. I scanned the area for a while before I noticed a small road.

After what seemed like an endless odyssey through the wilderness, I finally found our camp again.

As fast as I could I threw all our things into the back of the car and jumped behind the steering wheel.

Then I thought about Frank. Sure he was a nutjob, sure he acted like a psycho but he was still my partner. It didn’t make us friends, but it made us something.

What if he wasn’t dead? I couldn’t abandon him like that, could I?

I soon saw the mansion ahead of me. I stopped the car and got out one of the binoculars we’d used to keep the place under surveillance.

Everything seemed as normal as it could be. The windows were empty or covered by heavy curtains.

At first, I didn’t notice, but then I saw it. It was right at the second-floor window we’d focused on for all those days. The light wasn’t on, of course. Instead, I saw a small red-haired doll sitting on the windowsill.

There were cracks all over its face and as I stared at it I saw its tiny head move into my direction. Its eyes focused on me and then it raised one of its tiny, white arms and happily waved at me.

I started the car again, drove away, and never looked back.

Fuck this place, fuck Frank, and most important of all, fuck dolls!

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