When I was a small child, no older then two, I received a toy from my Great-Aunt Margery. Now, Great-Aunt Margery was a sight to behold, especially to a two year old. A hulking beast of a woman, with massive grey hair, (who, it was said behind her back, had a beard that needed to be shaved each morning) and got stuck in doorways sometimes when she walked. Needless to say, to a two year old mind, this woman was a terror in herself.
But on my second birthday she brought me a Jack-in-the-box. "Play with it!" my mother encouraged. Again, to a small girl, a box with a handle didn't seem so entertaining. I would much rather have watched television or play with the other children over for my party. But I was a good girl, and humored them, and found I liked the music box music that turning the crank produced.
I don't think I've ever really recovered from the trauma of having a terrible looking little man jump out of the box at me.
I screamed quite loudly, and cast it away. I think Great-Aunt Margery was hurt by my rejection of the gift, but can I really be blamed?
I tried time after time to get the thing as far away from me as possible, but night after night it was returned to my room, and the box stared at me as I sat up in my bed and back at it in terror. I never really DID know who kept putting it back up there.
The poor toy had been thrown out windows, but into trash compactors, and buried. But still it went back night after night.
Finally, having put up with this for five years, I placed it in my attic's far corner. It didn't come back until my twelfth birthday.
Ten years to the day I received the horrid little package from her, my Great-Aunt died at one hundred and three years of age. Needless to say I didn't have the happiest birthday that year, but really, it's not all that joyful to sit in your deceased family members house surrounded by crying people you've never met before who all seem to smell like feet. Then again, the whole house smelled as such, so maybe it wasn't the people. Who's to say?
That was the first time I'd actually seen a corpse. (Beyond that of my dead parakeet) I ventured into my Great-Aunt's room upon the dare of my cousin who said I was too chicken to do that because I was a girl. Always up for a challenge, and the death hadn't fazed me in the slightest, I ventured up the long and winding stairs of the old Victorian house to the dark halls of the top floor and through the huge doors into her death chamber.
My tasks were simple. Make it upstairs, into the room, and touch the corpse. But beyond that, I had to bring back some kind of proof that I had done it. He never had said what.
So as I crept across the hard-wood floor which creaked beneath my bare little child feet, I came up to the old dead woman, and felt a pang of sorrow for not getting to know her better. That faded quickly as I remembered the terrible thing she gave to me when I was so little. That and she was creepy.
She had a ring on her finger. That would serve as proof that I had gotten this far to that little boy. Slowly and tentatively reaching out to take the little bauble, my fingers clasped around the cold and clammy hand of death. I straightened in shock, but carried out my task. Just as I turned around to leave the room at top speed, my back to the dead woman, the cold hand that I had removed the ring from clamped on my left shoulder. I let out a shriek, turning and finding the old lady sitting erect in the bed, holding me by my shoulders, her eyes dead and unseeing. "You. You despicable child. I never liked you." I was at a loss for words, silenced by my fear and her horrible screeching voice. "You never were a good girl. But I will teach you some things you will never forget." And with that a shuddering moan escaped the woman, and she fell back onto the bed, in the exact same position she had been moments before, as though she had never said these things to me, nor been sitting up.
Screaming, I discarded the ring, and charged out of the room, falling down the last steps to the downstairs. Telling my mother what I had done and seen, she disregarded it and told me it served me right for disturbing the dead that my mind should play these tricks on me. "But mom! It wasn't in my mind! She touched me! And threatened me!" But I was sent away to sit in the corner as the family finished their business about my aunts possessions.
That night, when I returned home I was sent to bed without dinner, which I was fine with for I felt quite ill.
As I sat awake in my room, my mind still caught on the dead woman's face, the sound started.
The music box music from the jack-in-the-box I had received a decade prior, barely hearable from the ceiling above me, but still very much so there. And I heard her words. "I will teach you some things you will never forget."
Still no one believes me, but even now, so long later, after I have moved out and grown up with a family of my own, that toy still haunts my foot falls. I hear it in my mind in the small hours of the night, when the shadows arise, and my aunt's words threatening me. I see her standing there, her eyes empty and dull, and the jack pops out of the box once more.