Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
Okay, so you probably don’t even know this about me, because I never really talk about it. I mean, to this day, the memory still freaks me out. But I once attended boarding school – that’s actually not the freaky part. Let me back up a bit – to the summer before my junior year of high school. My parents were at a rocky point in their relationship, fighting all the time. They loved the idea of my getting away, not having to witness how ugly things were getting at home. Plus, with me away – nearly a hundred miles from home – they could try to work things out, get back on track…
So, they made it happen. I enrolled that fall at Briar Mayfield Academy, home of the Bulldogs. And, admittedly, I was kind of excited. I mean, here I was on a whole new adventure, in a new environment, with a whole new menu of classes to take. Plus, the campus? It was absolutely stunning with its sprawling green lawns, ivy-covered brick buildings, and a state-of-the-art gym. It also had the cutest frog pond with a foot bridge and telescopes for stargazing… In some way, I felt like I was going on vacation, rather than to prep school.
But then I met my roommate.
And, yes, I know. Who doesn’t have a roommate-from-hell story, right? And, to be honest, she seemed perfectly normal at first: quiet, soft-spoken… Not exactly like some of my hilarious friends back home, but still… She was really sweet. Hanna Rice was her name. She was a junior too, or so she said; she looked barely old enough to be in high school.
I remember she offered me first dibs on which side of the room I wanted. She also insisted I take the bigger closet because I had more clothes, and she promised not to take any of my snacks without asking. I mean, how could we not get along?
But I noticed something, as we were unpacking and arranging our sides of the room… A suitcase at the foot of Hannah’s bed. It looked like an antique with its wooden surface and leather straps. Every few minutes or so, Hannah would squat down to give the cover a light pat. At first, I thought maybe it was a good luck thing or even a nervous twitch. Like, I went to elementary school with a kid who used to tap his pencil against the side of his head – five times – before he was able to start a math question… But, then, I saw Hannah giving the suitcase a weird rap, as though in code – tap, tap-tap, knock, knock, knock; tap, tap-tap, knock, knock, knock. She did that same rap, over and over again.
I asked Hannah if everything was okay. I mean, it was just so weird. She told me it was, then stood up, like nothing happened.
After dinner that night, everyone in the dorm convened in the rec area for a back-to-school game where we constructed towers out of toothpicks and marshmallows, which didn’t really go so well, because everyone kept eating the marshmallows… It was actually pretty funny.
But not to Hannah.
I mean, she didn’t even participate. She just stood there with a scowl on her face, as if we were acting like animals. And, admittedly, maybe we were. But, honestly, who doesn’t love marshmallows? Especially when there’s a chocolate fountain involved, which there was.
Anyway, she went back to our room, without a word. And I had no idea why. Was she not feeling well? Had something bad happened? Maybe one of the other girls had said something rude…
I still hung out for a bit, playing ping-pong and getting to know the other girls, half-hoping that Hannah might come back and join us. But, she didn’t. And so, around ten o’clock, feeling guilty, I went back to the room to check on her, nowhere near prepared for the reaction I would get.
Hannah was sitting on the bed, with the suitcase open in front of her. And like a reflex, she drew the lid closed, fastened the latches, and snapped the locks shut. “What do you want?” she asked me.
Seriously? “I don’t want anything,” I told her. “I just came to check on you. Is everything okay? Did something happen back there?”
Her dark eyes narrowed into slits, as if maybe I’d been the one who’d done something wrong. Still, she didn’t answer. Instead, she patted the suitcase and did that weird tap, tap-tap, knock, knock, knock thing. But this time, I wasn’t going to let it slide.
“What is in there?” I asked.
She set the suitcase on the floor. In doing so, something toppled off her bed. I moved to pick it up. It was black and rounded, smaller than the size of my palm. But Hannah snatched the thing before I could grab it.
“Was that a shoe?” I asked, because that’s sort of what it looked like – a shoe for a baby or toddler maybe.
But once again, Hannah didn’t answer. Instead she just said how tired she was. She dimmed her night table lamp, saying she had a hard time falling asleep in total darkness, then settled in for bed.
I went to bed too, still curious about the suitcase. I mean, what could be inside it? Drugs? Weapons? Body parts? Maybe term papers for sale that she couldn’t risk my finding? And what was up with all of the rapping?
What would happen if I rapped on the suitcase too?
I waited for Hannah to nod off. Once I was sure she had – could hear her subtle snoring – I crawled out of bed and across the floor, accidentally knocking over my water bottle. It made a plunk sound against the hard wood, which radiated to my heart. But luckily the sound hadn’t seemed to wake Hannah up.
The suitcase was within reach now, but still; it was right at the side of Hannah’s bed, positioned at her arm’s reach, as if she’d wanted to keep her eye on it.
My fingers shaking, I rapped on the side of the suitcase, ever so lightly – tap, tap-tap, knock, knock, knock; tap, tap-tap, knock, knock, knock. Then, I placed my ear up against the side.
But nothing happened. I didn’t hear or feel anything.
A moment later, Hannah stirred in her bed. Her hand reached out toward the suitcase, though I was fairly certain she was still asleep. Maybe she was dreaming about the suitcase. I’m not really sure, but I scurried back into bed, feeling silly for wanting to tap the thing in the first place. I mean, what had I really expected?
And so, I went to bed – for real, this time. But I was awakened later to the sound of that rapping: tap, tap-tap, knock, knock, knock. It brought chills to my skin.
I rolled over and looked toward Hannah. But, she was sound asleep, with her eyes closed, and her hands clutching her pillow. The sound was gone now. So, had I only dreamed it? I went to turn back over.
And that’s when I saw it.
Sitting at the foot of my bed.
I know. It sounds totally crazy, like maybe there was something a bit stronger than sugar and gelatin in those marshmallows. The doll had long, golden-blond hair. It looked to be about ten or twelve inches tall, though sitting. A shadow from the lamp casted over the doll’s face, chilling my bones. The doll had amber eyes, the color caught somewhere between orange and brown, and it was wearing an orange dress. There was a gash in the forehead: a sideways slit, about four inches long.
The thing is, I was so beyond exhausted, I fell back to sleep, which, I know sounds suspect, like maybe I’d dreamed the whole thing. I even wondered that too, especially because when I woke up the next morning, the doll wasn’t there. The suitcase hadn’t moved. Hannah didn’t mention a word about anything from the previous night.
The whole next day, though… I felt like I was being watched, like everywhere: in my classes, while I was eating my lunch, walking back and forth between buildings… I kept looking over my shoulders and checking the corners of various rooms. But there was never anything to explain the sensation.
The feeling followed me back to my room. I closed the door, locked it behind me, relieved to finally be totally alone, where I could have a little peace. But when I turned toward my bed, I was unable to help notice: Hannah’s suitcase was just sitting there, unguarded.
This was my chance.
I tried the latch. The suitcase was locked, of course. But it was an antiquated lock, nothing that a hairpin couldn’t pick. I’d had my fair share of practice breaking in to my parents’ antique liquor cabinet. It took practically nothing, just a bend of the pin and a few jiggles from side to side.
The latches flipped open.
I lifted the lid, as chills rip up my arms, because inside the suitcase was the same doll from my nightmare – no joke – with the golden-blond hair, the cracked forehead, and the orange dress…
My head started spinning. I mean, how was this even possible? Was I totally losing it? The shoes were shiny and black with a strap across the top – exactly like what I’d seen topple from Hannah’s bed the previous night.
I lifted the doll out of the case. In doing so, the eyes tilted open. They were the same amber color. It appeared that someone had drawn slash marks over the forehead gash to make it look like hand-drawn stitches. Totally creepy.
I went to check the back, wondering if there might be a hidden compartment. At the same moment, the doorknob jiggled. A key was inserted in the lock.
I hurried the doll back inside the suitcase and drew the lid closed, catching the dress. My pulse racing, I poked the fabric back in and went to shut the latches. I managed to click one of them closed, but the other one kept snapping back.
There wasn’t time.
I stood the suitcase up anyway, just as the door swung open. Hannah was there, staring straight at me.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked.
Without waiting for my answer, she stormed across the room, slid the suitcase toward her and opened it wide. She took the doll out and inspected it all over – the dress, the hair, the shoes, the rubbery skin… She sniffed it too and tested the eyelids, making sure they opened and shut.
“I’m really sorry,” I told her. I had no excuses. “I was just curious.”
“Well, then, can I be curious too, and go through all of your stuff?” she snapped.
“I’m sorry,” I told her again.
That’s when she started to explain – about the doll, that it was extremely sentimental. Hannah grew up in foster care and didn’t have much of a family. “But I have Vera,” she said, pointing out the embroidered Vs on the pockets of the doll’s dress. “Vera Valentine. She’s vintage, delicate, at least sixty years old.”
“Is that why you’re so secretive about it?” I asked. “Why you keep it locked up in a suitcase?”
“I keep Vera in a suitcase because of stuff like this,” she said. “People going through my stuff, not understanding the value, not understanding me…”
Hannah explained that she’d bought the doll online – on a website for haunted doll collectors. (Who knew such a thing existed?)
“Dolls like Vera,” Hanna continued. “They have a history.”
According to Hannah, Vera was owned by a girl named Rebecca whose father was a general contractor. The contractor built the family’s home on land where there had once been a hospital. One of the patients who’d died from the flu in that hospital, years prior, inhabited Rebecca’s doll.
“Wait,” I said, unable to resist, “Are you trying to tell me that Vera is like Chucky and Annabelle?” I mean, it was just so crazy.
Hannah rolled her eyes. “This isn’t Hollywood,” she said. “Some spirits, who don’t manage to pass on, use objects, like dolls, as vessels to communicate.”
It made no sense, but still she kept going, telling me that sometimes the dolls make whistling sounds or leave trinkets behind.
“Look, I know it sounds unusual,” she said, “but when you’re forced to move around as much as I have… Having a spirit doll is the closest thing I’ve got to a real-life family.”
My eyes slammed shut. I mean, it was just too much. Way too out-there. I didn’t believe in ghosts or spirit energy of any kind. I mean, yes, it was sad that Hannah didn’t feel close to any humans, but this spirit-doll stuff… It seriously creeped me out, and I wasn’t buying a word of it.
And so, I put it right on her: Why had she put the doll on my bed the previous night?
Hannah gave me a confused look, as if she had no idea what I was talking about, which was really kind of irritating, because I hadn’t made it up. The doll had been on my bed. I was surer now than ever: It hadn’t been a dream.
“I didn’t,” Hannah insisted. “Vera was in the suitcase all night.”
My face flashed hot. I got up, not wanting to argue. I had no idea why she was lying. All I knew was that I wanted a new roommate. And so, after dinner that night, I went to talk to the resident advisor, but she was in a meeting, so I had to make an appointment for the following day. That night, as I sat on my bed doing my homework, I watched Hannah tend to her doll, brushing out her hair, reading the doll a story, and changing the clothes. One of the compartments of the suitcase was devoted to Vera’s wardrobe and accessories – stuff like storybooks, washcloths, jewelry, and play food items. So weird. Anyway, I went to bed, telling myself that by the end of the week, this would all be over. I’d get switched to a new room; this would all get resolved…
Sometime that night, I got up, having to use the bathroom. There were about ten of us on the floor of that dormitory, and we all shared a communal bathroom with shower- and toilet-stalls. I crept down the hall, which, luckily, stayed lit up at night. Still, it was pretty eerie. The building was quiet. No one else was up. It was just past two a.m., and you could’ve heard the drop of a pin.
The bathroom had about six stalls in total, four toilet-, two shower-. After I was done, I went to the sink to wash my hands. That’s when I heard it. The whining of one of the stall doors. I peered over my shoulders, feeling the same sensation I’d had before – of being watched. But no one else was in there. I was totally alone. I took a deep breath and turned back to the sink.
At the same moment, I heard it: a giggling sound that sent shivers all over my skin. It was coming from the last stall.
My heart pounded. But still, I told myself it was just my imagination, despite the gooseflesh on my forearms and the tightening of my chest. The giggling sounded like it was coming from a child, like someone was hiding, playing a joke.
I approached the stall, my limbs trembling, my insides shaking. The door was only partially closed. I kicked it open. It made a loud, hard thwack against the wall, rattling me to the core.
I peered inside, holding my breath. But the stall was empty. The giggling had stopped now too. I turned back toward the sinks, spotting something small and pink by the faucet. It hadn’t been there before; I would’ve noticed. I took a few steps closer, able to see what it was: a plastic baby bottle, as though for a doll.
I hurried back to my room, down the hallway, tearing the door open, only to find the doll – again – sitting on my bed, its eyes gaping, its mouth curled into a grin.
I let out a loud, thirsting gasp that woke me up. I sat up. I was still in bed, like I’d never gotten up.
I’d dreamed the whole bathroom scene – everything: the stall, the giggling, the door thwack, the baby bottle…
Hannah was still asleep. Her suitcase was closed. There was no doll on my bed.
Silently, I counted to ten, trying to catch my breath, desperate to get a grip. I mean, what was going on with me?
A chirping sound made me jump. My cell phone, by my bed. My mom’s picture flashed across the scream.
“Mom?” I answered.
She was absolutely hysterical, talking a mile a minute, telling me that I needed to come home, that there’d been an accident involving my dad. My dad’s family has a history of heart disease, so my mind just went to the worst possible scenarios, picturing him in a hospital, all hooked up to machines.
“Please, just come,” my mother insisted. “Call a taxi.”
There was no such thing as an Uber back then.
I flew out of bed, threw some things into a bag. Hannah woke up in the midst of it all and I explained what was happening. She tried to help, asking if there was anything she could do. She was actually pretty sweet. But, honestly, no one could do anything. I just needed to get home.
I took a cab, got there around six in the morning, just as my parents were getting out of bed. My dad was gearing up to go for an early morning run. Mom was making coffee. The morning news was on.
It was just like any other day, except for my parents’ reaction: They were completely alarmed that I’d come home.
“What happened, Honey?” Mom asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked them, checked my phone.
But there was no trace of my mom’s call. And neither of my parents had any idea what I was talking about. There was no accident. My mom swore she’d never called me.
Basically, I’d freaked them out – so much so that my mother made me stay home that day, figuring the stress of the new school and living away was wreaking havoc on my mental health. And, honestly, I couldn’t really argue because I was feeling pretty freaked out too.
Later that afternoon, after some rest, I called my resident advisor demanding that I get assigned a new roommate.
But “you don’t even have an old roommate,” she said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You’re in a single,” she said. “I mean, yes, there’s an extra bed in there, but you don’t have a roommate – for now, anyway.”
“Of course, I do,” I insisted. “Room 19… I’m with Hannah Rice…”
“Room 19 is a single,” she assured me.
Still, I made her doublecheck her records. “Hannah Rice,” I repeated two more times.
My resident advisor responded that no one named Hannah Rice attended Briar Mayfield. She’d checked the student directory. And, upon my insistence, she also called the registrar and checked out my room, reporting that only one half – my half – appeared to have been decorated.
My stomach twisted up in knots, like I was seriously going to be sick. I grabbed the sides of my head. Was I was totally losing my mind?
After I hung up, I lay down in my bed, chilled to the bone – even with the covers. And so, I grabbed the bag I’d packed to come home, remembering having stuffed my favorite sweatshirt into the main compartment. I pulled the sweatshirt out and slipped it on, able to feel something inside the front pocket.
I reached in to see what it was, my fingers curling around something palm-sized and rubbery. I plucked it out: the doll’s shoe. The shiny black one with the strap on top.
To this day, I still have the shoe. I came across it last week, in the back of my closet, which prompted me to do a Google search of Vera Valentine, remembering how Hannah said she’d purchased the doll on a site for collectors. I came across a website with a database of haunted things. It listed the Vera doll as having been purchased years before. It also listed some of the physical details, like the gash in the forehead and the ink marks on the face. But even creepier than that, the listing included info on the supposed spirit that inhabits the Vera doll. The girl died at age twelve, in a hospital, victim to the flu of 1918. She was a foster kid with a love of dolls, and her name was Hannah Rice.