The whispering woke me.
It was the girl, speaking in a low murmur. I didn’t know her name, but I knew her voice. My wife and I had been hearing it since the day we moved in.
The house was a quaint Victorian built in the late 1800s by a local carpenter as a gift for his daughter. She passed it down to her daughter, who passed it down to her daughter, and so on up until today.
We knew from the moment we first entered that the place was perfect for us. We were made for it.
“Did you hear that?” I mumbled groggily.
There was no response. I rolled over to look at my wife. She was gone. I sat up and squinted into the darkness.
“Babe?” I called out.
Still no answer. I swung my feet down to the cold hardwood floor. It creaked as I stood.
“Babe?” I said again, a little louder this time. “You okay?”
An icy wind prickled my skin. Something brushed my shoulder. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a gauzy white apparition floating behind me. I spun around, then exhaled in relief. It was just a curtain blowing in through an open window. I brushed it away. I closed this thing earlier, I thought as I lowered the sash. I know I did.
That was one drawback of living in an old house: it seemed to have a life of its own. Lights turned on when you swore you had just turned them off. Doors and windows opened and closed, apparently of their own accord. Items went missing. Furniture moved by itself.
And every once in a while, my wife disappeared.
She wasn’t usually gone for long. A few hours maybe. Then she’d reappear just as suddenly as she vanished, with no recollection of where she had been. All she could remember was the whispering. She couldn’t understand what was being said, but it didn’t seem dangerous. “It seemed sweet,” she said. “Almost playful.”
As I shuffled across the bedroom to look for my wife, my shin collided with something hard.
“God damn it!” I growled. A low wooden bench was toppled over in the middle of the room. I walked right into it.
“Did you move this?” I shouted to no one.
Suddenly, I felt a crushing tightness in my chest, as if a giant hand was closing around me. A nauseating wave of vertigo rolled my stomach. My body began to rise from the floor. I tried to fight off whatever was clutching me, but my arms were pinned to my side. I was completely immobilised.
I began to lose consciousness. As the world faded from grey to black, I heard the girl’s voice in the darkness. It was louder now and clearer than ever before. For the first time, I could understand what she was saying.
“Tommy!” she shouted. “Give him back!”
“Why should I?” a boy’s voice sneered.
“Because he’s my doll, that’s why!”