The house felt hostile, and they haven’t even stepped foot inside.
Mikhail squinted at the highest point of the house through narrowed eyes. The gabled roof was stark and dark against a blinding, iron-gray sky. Tiny raindrops were starting to splatter on the ground, darkening the withered grass and hard-packed ground.
“Let’s come in,” said his father.
So they did.
Mikhail’s room was in the attic. He had balked at first, complaining that three steep flights of stairs were too much to conquer every day. But every room in the house was already occupied, so he had no choice.
The attic room was cozy and fully furnished, albeit a little dim even when all the lights were turned on. There was a window seat with puffy cushions, a queen-sized bed with silk sheets, a dresser with an ornate mirror, and an enormous wardrobe in the corner of the room.
Mikhail stood by the doorway, one shoulder drooping under the weight of his bags, one hand on the doorknob.
He hated the house already.
It was three o’clock in the morning, and Mikhail still hadn’t finished unpacking. He had moved all of his books and toys and action figures to the bookshelves along one wall. He set up his PC on the desk and put all his shoes away. Now all he needed to do was sort out and fold and stow away his heap of black clothes inside the wardrobe.
He placed his hand on one of the handles and pulled. It creaked open in protest, sending a cloud of fine dust straight to his face. After a fit of coughing and sneezing, Mikhail opened his eyes experimentally and his gaze fell on the doll.
It was human-sized, very realistic. For a moment, he thought there was a girl hiding in his closet. But closer inspection and prodding convinced him that it was nothing more than a lifelike doll. He pulled it out; grunting when he found out that it was surprisingly solid.
The doll was about five feet tall, with paper-white skin and a sweet face. She had masses of long, straight black hair and full, smiling lips. She had slanted eyes with dark irises, and she was dressed a simple black dress and black socks.
“Huh,” muttered Mikhail. “I like your style.”
He decided to keep the doll as a mannequin. He positioned it in a corner, then thought the better of it and sat it stiffly on the couch. He resolved to buy a change of clothes for it the next morning and went back to unpacking.
That night, Mikhail stirred in his sleep and opened his eyes drowsily. The light from his computer illuminated the doll on the couch, and she looked…sad.
“Oh, come on,” he groaned.
He tried to roll over and go back to sleep, but finally got up and retrieved the doll. “Just this once,” he said under his breath, positioning the doll next to him in bed. “You’re back on the couch tomorrow.”
He might have only imagined it, but the doll seemed happier.
The doll became part of his daily routine. Mikhail wasn’t too fond of interaction with his family, so he stayed in his room most of the time. He bought clothes for the doll and dressed it up as he would have dressed up, had he been female. He felt less weird with having the doll sleep beside him at night, because it provided a comforting heaviness in the bed beside him.
Eventually, he decided to give her a name. He was poring through a baby-name website on the internet, but couldn’t seem to find a suitable name. Defeated, he closed the website and sighed. The doll was beside him, immobile. He leaned over and patted one of its cheeks.
“It would be easier if you could talk,” he joked. “Won’t you come alive so I’ll have a real friend?”
Michael came home one day with a bleeding nose and a bruised cheek and rage in his heart. He slammed the door shut and threw his bag on the floor, then fell face-down on his bed. “I hate people,” he growled, his voice escalating into a scream. “I hate everyone!”
The doll was silent, but he could imagine that it would feel sad if it were alive. He drew the doll towards him tenderly and kissed its cheek. “You’re the only one I like,” he whispered. “I wish you were alive.” He pressed his cheek to the doll’s and closed his eyes, squeezing out tears of frustration. “Please. Please. Please be alive.”
He realized how silly he sounded and began laughing, wiping his tears away. When he glanced at the doll, he saw that his tears and blood had left streaks on the doll’s face. “Oh, no.” He hurriedly wiped away the blood with his sleeve. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I’m so so sorry.” He smoothed the doll’s hair and planted a light kiss on her lips.
It must have been his imagination, but he really thought for a moment that the doll’s lips were warm and that its lashes were fluttering against his.
Mikhail woke up from a deep, dreamless slumber enveloped with pleasant warmth. He felt warm, steady breathing and a beating heart. When he turned, he saw the doll – now softer, more vulnerable, her chest rising and falling in sleep.
She was alive.
As if feeling Mikhail’s stunned gaze, the doll’s eyes slid open slowly, blinking back the sleep away. She yawned. “I’m cold,” she complained, snuggling into his side and pressing her face to his chest.
Mikhail’s heart was racing. He slowly raised one hand to stroke her hair, and then began to caress her shoulders and back and then her waist. She looked up at him sleepily, her lips slightly parted. “That feels nice,” she murmured.
He cupped the back of her head with his other hand and leaned in to kiss her. When he pulled back, she was blushing. “Are you really, truly alive?” he whispered.
She smiled back, tangling her fingers in his hair and pulling him back for another kiss. “Yes. Remember last night, when you touched me with your blood and tears? That brought me back to life. And I will be alive…as long as you’re around, that is. Every time you disappear from my side, I will turn back into a doll.”
Mikhail frowned. “But will you be able to turn back?”
She giggled. “Oh, it’s easy. All you need to do is to cut yourself a little and place a few drops of blood on my lips. I’ll come back to life in an instant!”
“You’re still a doll, right?”
She smirked at him. “I can be whatever you want me to be…”
He pulled her under the sheets, and they didn’t surface until hours had passed.
Every afternoon, after school, Mikhail would hurriedly slice his palm with a sterile scalpel tip and shower the doll’s still lips with crimson drops. She would wake up and they’d spend the rest of the evening in each other’s arms, until he had to leave for school again.
He named her Eris. She was his, and he was hers.
It would have been a perfect arrangement if Michael’s family didn’t get involved. He didn’t get along with them from the start and they were always finding little ways to inconvenience and antagonize him, which led to nasty fights and cold silences. It was a good thing that the doll was always happy to soothe him whenever conflict spilled out.
They had been nagging him for ages now to become more social and spend more time out of the house, and it angered them to see him retreat even more. His step mother and sisters were especially insistent. They had even come up to his room to see what he was up to.
Michael was afraid at first that they would find his doll and take her away, but they didn’t even seem to see her. Even though she was on the bed, dressed in fancy silk clothing, it was as if they saw nothing.
One night, things became especially rough and Mikhail’s stepmother hit him across the cheek before storming out. The boy spat on the floor, a blood-red splash on the pale carpet. His hair had fallen down over his face, obscuring his facial expression. He took a deep breath and laughed shakily, then turned around to pick up his doll for comfort.
She was sitting upright in bed, even though he had not yet awakened her for the day. Her lips were pressed in a tight line of disapproval, and her eyes were blazing with protective intent.
He sat down beside her, and she took him in her arms. He pressed his forehead to her chest and they sat there quietly while she stroked his hair. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. “Were we being too noisy?”
The doll pressed her lips on top of his head. She was so upset that her limbs were trembling slightly.
“I’ll always take care of you, Mikhail,” she told him solemnly. “You gave me new life, and I’m going to be forever grateful. I’ll protect you in every way I can.”
He looked up at her. “What do you mean new life? Weren’t you always a doll?”
“Mm? No, not at all. I was once a human, such as yourself. But I wasn’t the nicest person, and I managed to make someone angry enough to curse me. Only you figured out how to wake me, and I’m slowly coming back to life…at first, I could wake up only with your help. But lately I’ve been managing to do it on my own.”
Mikhail clutched at her dress, his hands forming into fists so tight that his knuckles were white. “What will happen if you wake up completely? Will you leave me as well?”
Her arms tightened around him and she lowered her face to meet his in a gentle kiss. “Never, my darling. I’ll always be here.”
Mikhail soon fell asleep with his head on her lap. He breathed peacefully, a small smile on his lips. But the doll stayed awake, one hand nestled protectively over his hair, her eyes locked on the doorway, ready to pounce if anyone dared disturb they boy’s slumber.
The next day, Mikhail left early for school. He was already stressed before leaving, because he fought with his stepmother and stepsisters at the breakfast table once again. He briefly considered lashing back at them, but decided that it was too much of an effort.
Mikhail automatically knew something was wrong the moment he got back home. For one thing, the house was entirely too quiet – deathly still, with absolutely no noise anywhere. Nothing stirred. Nothing fluttered. It was as silent as a crypt.
The next things he noticed were the lack of illumination and the sharp, cloying, metallic tang of blood in the air.
And then, there was the fact that the doll stepped out of the doorway in bloodstained clothes.
They ran to each other, Mikhail in worry and the doll in fear.
“I’m sorry,” she cried. “I didn’t mean to do it. They were going through your room and they were talking about how they would burn your things and I couldn’t help it. I only wanted to grab your clothes from them but they got scared when they saw me and tried to hurt me.”
He swallowed. The front of his shirt was now stained with crimson. “Did you kill them?”
The girl sank to the floor, staring at their hands. “I didn’t know how easy it would be,” she whispered. “I tore them apart with ease. They barely lasted long enough for me to call for help.” She flexed her slender fingers as if reliving the scene. “There was so much blood. I couldn’t stop myself, I was so hungry…”
“Shh.” Mikhail crushed her in a tight embrace. “It was an accident. You did what you had to do. We can talk about this later, but now, we have to leave. Understood?”
Eris licked her lips nervously and nodded.
“Now, come on. We need to gather what we need, destroy everything here, and leave.” He held out his hand, and she took it. “Are you ready?”
The girl looked back briefly into the dim room, where the silhouettes of her accident were strewn on the floor. She gazed up at Mikhail and nodded her head. “I’m ready.”
The house was surprisingly easy to burn down. It was old and mostly wooden, so it blazed fairly quickly. Since Mikhail’s family lived in a secluded estate, there was not much the firefighters could do once they arrived on the scene.
Mikhail and Eris watched the fire from a distance, huddled together for warmth and comfort. They saw his father’s sleek black car drive into the doorway, but they disappeared from sight before he could see them.
Creating a new identity was easy if you had enough money to silence questions. Mikhail and Eris soon resurfaced on the other side of the globe, with fresh new identities and nice clean slates. They were happier than ever, reveling in each others’ company and being deeply in love.
There were times when Eris would wake up in the middle of the night with splitting headaches, or return from sleepwalking with blood on her face and hands. But Mikhail would nurse her until she was calm again, and they would forget about these inconveniences by the next morning. He had begun to feed her small doses of his blood to keep her conscious all the time, which helped stop the sleepwalking.
They had to move again when Eris had an ‘accident’ too close to home. They left in the middle of the night and boarded a plane to the farthest country they could imagine, and they sat beside each other, lulled to sleep by the hum of the plane’s engines.
It was a rather tiring lifestyle, but everything was perfect.