“Katie where are you?” asked Julie. She had only turned her back for a moment, this place was enormous the perfect setting for my ghost story she thought.
Julie had confronted Sam after finding a very explicit message on his phone from someone called Fran and following a blazing row her husband admitted he had been sleeping with a woman who worked for him, Julie had then unceremoniously snatched up their daughter Katie and decamped to her mother’s home. Despite the warm welcome she had received Julie found it a bit of a strain living there, the flat was small and she felt it was not fair on her mother. Her best friend Sally offered to put her up while her solicitor worked on getting her very recalcitrant husband out of the family home (he had cancelled all the credit cards after she left and Julie had little money to call her own.) and was on the verge of accepting when an acquaintance of her mother’s hearing of her plight asked if Julie would like to house sit for her while she was in Canada.
Miss Kitteridge was an eccentric spinster, slightly older than her mother and had a large Tudor style house in the country, all Julie had to do was live there for a month while she was away but was given strict instructions not to disturb her doll collection in the old nursery.
“Katie!” she called again and hearing giggling coming from above rushed upstairs to see the nursery door ajar and Katie was inside talking to someone, Julie pushed the door wide to see her sat on the floor surrounded by dolls and teddies. “Katie, mummy told you not to come in here didn’t she? Don’t come upstairs without me again!”
Katie’s bottom lip trembled. “Annie said it was alright.”
“Annie’s my friend.” Katie started crying.
“I’m sorry, come on poppet.” Julie picked her up and after taking her back downstairs to watch CBBC quickly returned to the nursery to put the toys back on the shelves, they were very old and probably worth a fortune. One doll in particular caught her eye, it was almost child sized with a pale porcelain face which made Julie shudder. “You’re definitely going to be a possessed doll in my story.” She had decided to have a go at writing. “Who knows, you might make me famous?”
“Can I play with Annie again?” asked Katie the next day.
“Who is Annie darling?”
“My friend, she plays with me.”
“Where is she?”
“She lives in the house, grownups can’t play with her.”
“She obviously has an invisible friend dear.” said her mother over the phone. “I remember you had one at her age, it was a green puppy called Albert, don’t worry so.”
“Sam will use it against me, he’ll say I’ve caused it and I’m not fit to bring up a daughter I know he will!”
“Shh dear no-one’s going to tell him and he doesn’t know where you are. Just treat this a holiday and relax.”
Easy for you to say, Julie put her phone down and picked up her attempt at writing, she was reaching for her wineglass when a noise caught her attention was Katie up?
Thinking she had caught a fleeting glimpse of something in the hall she went to look but there was nothing. Great, this place is starting to freak me out.
Next morning as she prepared breakfast in the huge kitchen, Katie who was eating her cereal with a fork (and why not?) piped up. “Annie came down to look at you last night, she thinks you’re nice.”
“You did come down last night didn’t you?”
“No mummy, it was Annie.” the girl replied shaking her head.
“Oh alright.” if it kept her daughter happy why spoil it for her? “Look don’t run around at night sweetie, play with Annie in your room.”
Sam phoned that evening to say he was sorry for being so difficult and wondered if they could get back together, Julie having none of it angrily asked if his tart had dumped him before suggesting he screw himself then she hung up and drank a full bottle of Zinfandel before retiring to bed and falling into a deep slumber.
Julie woke in the early hours to the sound of laughing in her daughter’s room. “Katie you should be asleep!” Julie shouted, her head throbbing, someone ran past her door away from her daughter’s room.
“Katie you little monkey, get back to your room!” Julie jumped out of bed to stagger unsteadily along the landing in the direction of the footsteps and sure enough the nursery door was open. “Katie what did I tell you!” she turned on the light to see…
Absolutely nothing, all the toys were exactly where she had put them the other day including the creepy doll.
“I’m in my room mummy!” Katie’s voice rang out petulantly.
“Oh I’m sorry poppet mummy must have had a bad dream.” Or a bad bottle of wine more like. She tucked her daughter in and watched her fall asleep before sitting wearily in the chair next to her bed to follow her daughter into the land of dreams.
The following days went smoothly by as Julie divided her time between chasing her solicitor (Sam suddenly became amenable no longer objecting to the divorce even forwarding money for Katie’s upkeep) and writing her ghost story set in a house rather like the one they were currently staying in only scarier. It was odd that despite the strange noises that could be heard at night (which she put down to the pipes and floorboards relaxing) the house felt welcoming and was anything but spooky. Her friend Sally came round to stay one night and after they got roaring drunk her friend made a clumsy pass at her, Julie had always suspected Sally was secretly gay, politely refusing but telling her she was flattered then in the morning informed her sober and embarrassed friend she would still happily consider staying in her home if the offer stood.
They had just a week left here and as she closed the nursery door for the third time that morning Julie realised Katie hadn’t been upstairs at all today, cautiously opening it she peered around and again everything was where it should be.
It was pouring with rain the night her mother rang in a state of panic, Sam had come round forcing his way in and demanding to know where his daughter was, her neighbour Mrs Patel, on hearing the ruckus sent her husband round to help Sam on his way but after the altercation her mother realised Julie’s husband had taken a letter from her sideboard, one she was supposed to forward to Julie’s solicitor, one that had Miss Kitteridge’s address on it.
Julie realised with apprehension that Sam’s unstable rage was building once again and would eventually get the better of him as it several times before.
He turned up twenty minutes later hammering on the door.
When the arguing started downstairs Annie came running into Katie’s room and jumped into the bed holding the little girl tightly to comfort her until the shouting died down then slipped quickly under the bed before Katie’s mother sporting a freshly bruised eye, came in to see her.
“It’s alright poppet.” said Julie in a shaky voice hugging her daughter. “Daddy and mummy just had a few silly words, you can go back to sleep now.” she looked out of the window and his car was still outside with it’s engine running, she had thought it was too good to be true when he had left so easily. She turned quickly on hearing tiny footsteps behind her but saw nothing, then the front door opened, oh god he’s come back! Julie was frantically searching her daughter’s room for something to use as a weapon when the car roared away from the house…
Julie rang her mother who in turn phoned the police even though she begged her not to and now she sat poker in one hand and a glass in the other looking at the dwindling bottle of vodka in front of her, he’s violent and I’m drinking just like old times! She jumped at the sound of knocking but felt relieved at seeing blue lights flashing behind the frosted window in the front door and upon opening it Julie saw two policemen standing in the driving rain.
“Are you Mrs Julie Ferris?” asked an officer looking curiously at her black eye…
On their way to the house the police had found his wrecked car, he had turned round and was on his way back when it appeared he had lost control leaving the road to hit the tree at speed. Sam wasn’t wearing his seatbelt and was killed instantly as the airbags had bizarrely failed.
Her solicitor informed her that since they were still married she was the beneficiary of his estate but there was a lot of legal red tape to sort out. I’ll bet thought Julie you’ll want your pound of flesh first. She was sad that Katie’s father had died but knew she would get over it sooner rather than later and decided they would here stay until the owner returned.
When Miss Kitteridge arrived back from her sisters in Toronto she consoled Julie and made a fuss of Katie presenting her with a huge teddy bear dressed as a Mountie.
“I’m afraid Katie did go in the nursery just the once.” confessed Julie.
“Oh well I suppose that would be alright just the once. Has little Katie been alright… I mean apart from that business with your husband?”
“Yes, little kids seem to take things in their stride, you know she thinks someone called Annie lives here, it’s her imaginary friend.”
“Oh!” Mrs Kitteridge’s eyes widened. “I used to have a secret friend called that when I was a little girl.” She seemed on edge.
“Funny that, mine was a puppy called Albert.” Julie replied.
“Well I mustn’t keep you dear.” she seemed eager for them to leave.
“Yes, I’ve a lot to do myself, thank you for letting me stay here.” I bet you want to check we haven’t broken anything.
After saying their farewells Mrs Kitteridge went inside quickly and shut the door while Julie strapped Katie into the safety seat.
The little girl was waving enthusiastically as they drove away. “Are you waving bye-bye to the house?” asked her mother.
“No, to Annie, look!” to humour her daughter Julie stopped the car and turned to where her daughter was pointing and froze in horror, a face at the nursery window had pulled away just too late and she had recognised it.
It was the creepy doll, the one she had joked was possessed!
“Annie was very cross at Daddy for being so horrible so she sneaked in his car and made it crash.” Katie announced brightly.
(Originally published bt Kyt Wright on October 31st 2018 as Annie.)