The doors were locked, the windows closed and the curtains drawn, and the house was a hub of soft noise. The babysitter lied downstairs, watching a movie with the volume low and the subtitles on. Outside, the wind howled as the snow beat against the windows. The dishwasher offered a steady, comforting hum of noise. Upstairs, the wind grew, and, in turn, the snores of the dog lying outside the child's room grew louder.
Large cerulean eyes slowly drew open. The young girl sat up in her bed quietly, looking around her room in sleepy confusion. The animal shapes from her lamp danced across the soft pink room, shedding its light inch by inch. The light illuminated someone, sitting amongst her stuffed animals. The girl's breath caught in her throat, and she squeezed her eyes shut, pulling her blankets closer to her chin. She squinted into the darkness, reaching out to pull the animal shade cover from her lamp to cast light upon the figure.
A man sat next to her large teddy bear. The girl clutched her blankets tighter, her blue eyes glancing towards the door, then back to the man rising to his feet. He was tall and well-dressed, and looked vaguely familiar, the way sometimes adults did at family holidays when they were cooing at how much she'd grown. The man wore a kind smile on his face, the same her mother gave her whenever she did well in her lessons. The girl's grip on the blanket tightened as the man walked closer and sat on the edge of her bed.
"Hello," the stranger said warmly, holding a doll in his hands. His voice was as kind as his smile and deep like her father's. His fingers ran along the doll's hair gently, looking down at it fondly. The familiar feeling grew, but Hadley was sure she'd never seen this man before. Her grip loosened, just slightly- he seemed kind and gentle.
"Who are you?"
The man smiled again, wider this time, and held up the doll in his hand. "Do you like her, Hadley? I made her special. Just for you."
Hadley reached out to take the figurine hesitantly, her hands trembling. The doll was an exact replica of her. Almost. There were changes that had the girl shifting away uncertainly from the stranger. There were cuts along its face and deep holes where the eyes once were. The right arm looked like as though it'd been torn off. The face was mottled red and tear-stained, twisted into a sob. It was grotesque, like something her brother may show her to scare her.
"I like it," she said, her voice cracking as she held the doll at arm's length and looked away from it. "How did you know my name?"
"Oh, I know a lot about you, Hadley," he murmured, chuckling lowly. The sound gave the six year old girl goosebumps all along her arms, and she scooted farther away from him as she looked towards the door desperately. "I know that your mother and father are away, and that the nanny is just downstairs. Amanda's the one that let me in."
"She isn't supposed to let strangers in."
The man laughed again. Hadley decided she didn't like the sound anymore. "A stranger? Don't you recognise me? Well, you were just a baby the last time I saw you. I'm your uncle. Your mother's brother," he said soothingly, reaching out one of his gloved hands to run through her hair.
"I've never met you…"
"She didn't mention Uncle John? Well, she told me that I needed to come get you. Amanda needs to go home for a few days as her mother is very ill, and they won't be back from France until next week. That's why I know safeword is elephant milkshake," he said, his smile not faltering.
Hadley nodded slowly, moving to hold the doll against her chest worriedly. "What about Chris and Foggie?"
"Foggie will stay here — my cats wouldn't care for him too much. Christopher is old enough to look after himself, and he'll need to watch over Foggie. We'll come back every day to make sure they're both doing fine," he smiled, standing from the bed. His long fingers wrapped around the doll, gently pulling it away from her and resting it on the bed. "It's best to leave her here. My cats have already torn her up."
Hadley hesitated, getting out of bed and looking between the man and the doll, tucked up in her bed. "And will Amanda's mommy be okay?"
"She'll be fine," the man assured her, turning from the bed to face her. The light from her lamp casted itself in such a way that his kind smile seemed to twist and gnarl into something malicious, a disturbing grin that highlighted his bright eyes. The sharp and laser stare that remidned her of the way Foggie looked when chasing after a squirrel. A predator locking in on its prey. "Are you ready to come with me, Hadley?" he asked, taking a step closer, and he looked kind once more.
With another nervous glance towards the door and the doll in her bed, Hadley nodded, holding out her right hand for the man to take.