I hated Ms. Granger’s collection from the moment I laid eyes on it.
The old lady was the latest in my long line of patients. I’m a caregiver, the live-in type.
I’d been working in the field for a decade when I got to know Ms. Granger.
She was a wealthy old woman who lived on her own in an Elizabethan style home in the countryside.
From her file, I’d expected her to be a stern old woman with disdain for other humans. To my surprise, she proved to be the polar opposite.
She was a friendly, grandmotherly type who welcomed me with a warm smile and seemed as nervous about the interview as I was.
As she led me inside, she babbled on. I learned that she’d taken care of herself just fine, but her heart wasn’t what it used to anymore, and her doctor had begged her to get some help around the house.
“That’s where you come in, Mr. Johnson,” she said.
“Well, I’d be honored to,” I answered, giving her my warmest smile.
As she led me down the hallway to the living room, I noticed the first outliers of her collection. Each cupboard and shelf in the hallway was stacked with small porcelain figurines.
My eyes wandered over the strange little things with a mixture of disdain and curiosity.
I soon learned, however, how big her collection really was. The moment I stepped into the living room, I gasped. Glass cabinets lined the walls, all filled to the brim with a plethora of porcelain figurines.
I saw animals, children, dancers, clowns, creatures from mythology and folk tales and much, much more, each one uglier than the next.
The old lady caught me staring and gave an embarrassed laugh.
“I guess, I can’t blame you for the stares. It’s a hobby of mine, or started out as one, but now, fifty years later…”
She broke up for a moment and laughed again.
“I guess, when you don’t have a family, you have to make one of your own.”
The interview went well, and a few days later, I moved into my quarters on the second floor of the house and began my work with Ms. Granger.
While I’d taken her earlier comment about her collection as a joke, I realized that she indeed acted as if those figurines were her family.
While I prepared meals or cleaned the house, I could hear her in the living room, babbling and talking to the surrounding figurines. I even noticed her pausing, as if she was waiting for or listening to voices I couldn’t hear.
I’d have attributed it to old age, but Ms. Granger was as sharp as a woman half her age. No, this seemed to be a peculiarity, an eccentricity of hers.
I hated those figurines. It wasn’t enough that they were everywhere, but they were old and awfully ugly. Many of them were distorted, their proportions and faces overplayed, making them look comical and unnatural.
Yet Ms. Granger seemed to love them all and made sure I did as well.
“Don’t you think my dearies are pretty?”
“What do you think of this little one over here?”
No, I think they are ugly, and that little one over there’s as ugly as the rest.
Now, of course I didn’t say it, and I never would. As weird as the old lady was, she was one of the loveliest people I’d ever gotten to know.
So, after gnashing my teeth and rolling my eyes, I answered that, yes, they were all pretty, and I thought whichever one she pointed to was the cutest.
The old lady’s favorite was a little figurine of a cat. It was no bigger than her hand, but she always had it with her. When she sat in the living room, it was resting on her lap. When she was having her meals, it was nearby on the table next to her and when she went to bed, she made sure it was resting on her night stand.
“Little Priscilla here always demands to watch over me during the night,” she’d say, giggling and petted the little figurine.
I always had to fight the urge to roll my eyes.
As much as I liked Ms. Granger, as much did I dislike her home. It was an old house, isolated in the middle of nowhere and filled with a perpetually musty air.
What made it even worse, though, was that damned collection. Wherever you went, whatever you did, there were always some of the ugly things around. I could almost feel them watching me, staring at me with their tiny eyes.
I sometimes caught myself wondering what would happen if I’d toss one of them, destroy it and get rid of those strangely probing eyes. Yet, I never gave into these destructive urges. I couldn’t help but think of old little Ms. Granger and her strange love for them.
The worst, by far, were the nights. Wherever I went, I was never safe from those ghastly figurines. In the dim light of old lamps, their shadows were transformed, made huge and looming, transforming them into resting, distorted demons.
Most days, I fled to my quarters the moment Ms. Granger had gone to bed. There I occupied myself with the internet or watching Netflix.
At times, I couldn’t help but listen. Occasionally, under the sound of setting walls and creaking beams, I thought I heard tiny footsteps. I knew it was nothing but my imagination, but it made me shiver.
Yet, the months I spent with Ms. Granger weren’t bad. I grew to like the old lady a lot and she, in turn, warmed up to me.
Before long, I found myself sitting with her in the evenings. I’d listen while she told me stories about her life, the friends she’d made, and the places she’d seen. And I told her about myself and the problems I’d had with my family.
Then, one day, it all came to an end.
I found her one morning, on my way to the kitchen to prepare breakfast.
Ms. Granger was an early bird, and she was always awake long before I got up.
That day, though, I didn’t find her in her living room chair, enjoying the first rays of sunshine. No, I found her lying in the hallway, unmoving.
I rushed to her side, but the moment I saw her empty eyes, I knew there was nothing I could do anymore.
Death is never an easy thing, and as I got back to my feet, I felt hot tears coming to my eyes. And there, right next to her, I found Priscilla, staring at me with her tiny, glassy eyes as if to blame me for what had happened.
I should learn, though, that there was nothing I could’ve done. It was a heart attack. Ms. Granger had collapsed on her way to the living room. At sixty-seven years, her already weak heart had finally given up.
After the funeral, I was devastated, of course, but ready to move on and say goodbye to her old home. As is so often the case, life had different plans for me.
A week after her death, I got a call from her attorney. After a short greeting, the man came right out with it.
“I’m calling to inform you that Ms. Granger has named you as a beneficiary in her will,” he told me. “I’d like you to come to my office to discuss the details.”
Needless to say, I was surprised. Ms. Granger had no husband or kids of her own, but I was sure she had extended family, friends, or, well, anybody else.
For a moment, the thought of her leaving me that ghastly collection came to my mind and I couldn’t help but cringe. Oh god, no, please no.
As it turned out, I was right. Old Ms. Granger had indeed left me her ghastly collection of porcelain horrors, but that wasn’t all. No, she’d named me as her sole benefactor and was leaving her belongings to me.
I couldn’t believe my ears. The world started spinning, and I almost lost my balance.
When I’d gotten over the shock, I laughed and told the man it had to be a mix-up with the names, the will, anything. But, no, he assured me it was all true, and Ms. Granger had called in the months before her death to draft a will.
And so, I found myself in possession of an old Elizabethan home in the countryside and thousands of ugly, old porcelain figurines.
At first, I was lost, not sure what to do. A strange feeling of responsibility washed over me, of owing her to take care of her home.
In the days that followed, however, I pushed those thoughts away. I wasn’t willing to spend my days out in an old home in the countryside. No, as much as I’d enjoyed the time with Ms. Granger, I couldn’t imagine living out there. At least, not all on my own.
Instead, I made plans to sell the house.
It was an old place, old and musty, with an overgrown yard. If I were to sell it, I decided, I should at least make it look presentable to potential buyers.
The moment I stepped back inside, I found myself under the stares of thousands of accusing eyes. Those damned figurines. There was no way I’d leave those creepy things standing around, scaring off people.
My first instinct was to toss them, to dump them in the trash and be done with it.
When I thought about it, though, the memory of Ms. Granger’s happy, warm smile returned to me. I cursed at myself for being sentimental, but decided to store them away for now. Who knows, there might be people out there with the same peculiar love for ugly things like that.
I went through the entire house, filling box after box with the damned things, but there was no end to them. Hour after hour passed, and finally day after day, of filling up boxes before only the little cat, Priscilla, was left. I sighed as I stared at it.
“What’s so special about you, you ugly little thing?” I wondered, as I held it up to my face.
I stared at its overly cute face with its tiny smile, at the small, glassy eyes and the short stubby tail. My fingers wandered over it, caressing the small indentations of its pretend-fur.
Then, for the blink of an eye, I could’ve sworn its eyes moved. I cursed and almost dropped the damned thing.
“In the box you go,” I said out loud before I added it to the rest of the collection.
By now, all the figurines were neatly stacked away in an empty storage room at the back of the house.
It wasn’t long before the first potential buyer appeared at my door. I was more than surprised because I’d hired a real estate agent to take care of all requests. Until everything was in order, I did not want to bother with anyone.
“You’re Mr. Johnson, I take it?” the old woman at the door spoke up, glancing at me with cold eyes.
“Excuse me, but, who are you?”
“I’m here to have a look at the house,” she spat at me and tried to shove herself past me.
In an instant, I positioned myself in front of her.
“I’m sorry, but the house isn’t open for visitation, yet. If you’re interested, you can get in contact with Mr. Davies from the-“
“How dare you, you,” she cut me off in anger.
What the hell was this woman’s problem?”
“Miss, I’d like you to leave,” I brought out.
She opened her mouth to scream at me again, but right at that moment, a man stepped up to her and put his hand on her shoulder.
“Now come on, Lizzy, let’s leave the poor chap alone. We can just talk to Mr. Davies from…?”
He stared at me expectantly, giving me a smile that felt all sorts of wrong.
“Mr. Davies from West City Real Estate,” I brought out after a few moments. “I can give you a card in case you-“
But I broke up when the two of them turned and walked back to their car. Before getting in, the woman gave me another angry glance. Then the two of them drove off.
I was left standing at the door, dumbfounded.
Even after they were gone, I couldn’t help but be confused. Who the hell were they? Why’d that woman been so mad? Was she an old friend? A relative, maybe? But Ms. Granger had told me she had no family.
Weird, I told myself, but with all the things I had to do, I’d soon forgotten about the strange incident.
The longer I spent trying to put the house in order, the more I realized just how much work there was to do. Eventually, I moved back into my old quarters. At least, until I was done with things.
I still didn’t like the house. While I’d hated all those figurines, somehow, their absence made it even darker, bleaker and creepier.
My sleep was light, and a lot of times I found myself awake in the middle of the night, listening for all sounds.
It was during my third night that I heard something. It differed from the sounds so common in the old home.
I told myself it was nothing but my imagination, that it came from outside, but after a while I couldn’t help but be scared.
It sounded like quiet, muffled footsteps coming from the first floor. For an instant, images of roaming porcelain figurines came to my mind. Tiny, ghastly horrors that crawled through the house, searching for me.
I told myself to let it go, to ignore it, to stay here and go back to sleep. But eventually, my racing mind and the slowly creeping in panic, made me get up. As carefully as I could, I slipped out from under the blanket.
I tiptoed to the door, cracked it and listened, but the sounds were gone. Whit a shaking hand, I hit the light switch in the hallway, prepared for the worst, but all was normal.
As I stepped outside, I listened again, but the house was all but quiet. The moment I reached the stairs, though, I heard it again, this time closer.
Fear washed over me. Those didn’t sound like tiny, clattering steps, those were the steps of a person. Someone must’ve entered and-
Pain exploded inside my head. My vision became blurry. Dark spots appeared in front of my eyes, and I crashed to the floor on top of the stairs.
For a moment, my entire body went numb, and I felt my consciousness slipping away. I screamed at myself, told myself to stay conscious, and eventually saw something at the bottom of the stairs.
There was a figure down there.
“Thought he could steal my house,” I heard a voice, a cold female one.
What was going on?
“Got him good, didn’t I?”
Another voice, this one male and much, much closer.
I opened my mouth, wanted to ask those people what was going on and what had happened, but all that escaped my mouth was a brief groan.
“He’s still conscious!” the female voice shrieked. “Why can’t you get anything right?”
“Well, I can just whack him a few more times, can’t I?”
I knew this voice, I’d heard it before, but where? Where?
“No, you’ll ruin the carpet! How’ll we get all the blood out?”
“What do you want me to do with him, then?”
As the two of them kept arguing, I desperately tried to get my body to work again, to move, but it was futile. I was barely able to move my hands, couldn’t even reach for the stairs to drag myself away from them.
I stopped when I noticed a tiny white thing right next to me. At first I didn’t know what it was, but then I noticed the overly cute face with its tiny smile, the small, glassy eyes and the short stubby tail. It was Priscilla, Ms. Granger’s little porcelain cat.
I stared at it in confusion. How had it gotten here? Had they taken it from the box? But why’d they-
The most wondrous of things interrupted my thoughts. Right next to me, the tiny porcelain figurine began stirring. At first it was only a single paw, then another before it stretched itself and moved closer to my face.
The once empty, glassy eyes were now alive. As they focused on me, I opened my mouth again and a single word, no more than a whisper, escaped it.
The moment the word had left my mouth, the tiny, ugly thing dashed away down the stairs.
“Eek! There’s something here! Its mice!” the woman at the bottom of the stairs shrieked as Priscilla rushed past her.
“What mice? There’re no mice!”
“But I saw something!”
“You always see something! Let’s get rid of-“
But his voice trailed off. Another sound reached all three of us. It sounded like the entire house was alive, reverberating with a single sound. It was footsteps, thousands of tiny, hard footsteps.
“What’s that now?” the man behind me cursed.
A moment later, the woman shrieked and started up the stairs, her eyes wide with terror.
And then I saw it. Ms. Granger’s collection. All the tiny, ugly porcelain figures were marching through the hallway and up the stairs.
I saw animals, children, dancers, clowns, creatures from mythology and folk tales, and much, much more.
It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
“What the hell’s going on? What are those, those things!” the man cursed.
Right at that moment, the first of the figurines reached the woman. I heard her scream in pain before she tumbled down to the bottom of the stairs, where the rest of the porcelain army waited for her.
“Lizzy, no!” the man behind me called out when the white army washed over her.
A moment later he rushed past me, straight to where the woman had been before and where was now only a teeming mass of tiny, white bodies.
I saw him charge at them, saw him grabbing them, throwing, stomping, and beating them. Porcelain shards rained over the stairs and the hallway, but there were too many of them.
Before long, he was swarmed. And the last thing I heard before I passed out was how anger and fury turned to terror and panic.
When I came to again, my head was throbbing with pain and I found the tiny white cat, now frozen again, by my side.
At first I didn’t understand what had happened, but then I remembered. And yet, when my gaze wandered down the stairs, all that remained was a mass of tiny white porcelain shards. There was no hint of the attackers and no hint of Ms. Granger’s collection.
I’d have told myself it was all but a dream, but the pain in my head and the tiny white cat by my side told me otherwise.
“Thank you,” I whispered at the small thing. “Thank you for saving me.”
In the weeks to come, I learned that Ms. Granger did indeed have a family. An estranged sister by the name of Elisabeth Granger.
After Ms. Granger’s death, her sister had hoped to inherit a fortune and had made inquiries about it. When she’d found out that I’d been named the sole benefactor, she’d grown furious.
When I saw a picture of her, I recognized her and the man by her side. They were no other than the couple who’d visited me, and who’d broken into my house that night.
And they’d have succeeded if not for Ms. Granger’s collection. No, not just a collection, her real family. A family numbering in the thousands. A family made of nothing but porcelain, but no less alive.
After what had happened that night, I gave up on the idea of selling the house and returned all the figurines to their places.
There were fewer of them now. Many had sacrificed themselves to save me that night, but I’ve kept their remains. After all, out here in the countryside, all by myself, I’ve got more than enough time to restore them.
It’s the least I can do, not just for them, but also for old Ms. Granger, who’d left me not only her home but also her magical porcelain family.