The doll came in a shiny pink cardboard box that Thalia unwrapped at her fifth birthday party. Children on a sugar high were running around and screeching, and her parents looked at her, seeking a reaction. The doll stared back at her with painted eyes and a wide toothy grin. Its head was too big for its body which was made of pliant plastic. It was dressed in a mesh tutu.
"Her name is Cherie. She's a ballerina. Just like you," said Thalia's mother.
"She's a doll," said Thalia.
"Yes," said her father. His smile was fading as he saw none appear on Thalia's.
"I don't like dolls," said Thalia. She put the box down on the sofa next to her and picked up the next present, which, happily, was a video game. Her father shrugged and her mother sighed.
Later that night, when all the guests had gone home, Thalia brought the box up to her room and tossed it into the back of the closet. She buried it well underneath stuffed toys and a layer of winter clothes. Her mother went up a few minutes later to read her a story, and when that was over, Thalia laid in bed thinking of the day and what it meant to be a year older, but in reality only a day older, and stared at her nightlight that was shaped like a glowworm. Activity downstairs slowly quieted down and Thalia felt her eyes get heavy.
The closet door creaked.
Thalia squeezed her eyes shut and brought the covers up around her face.
There were two footsteps.
Thalia curled up into the fetal position and tried to will herself to look like just another innocuous pillow.
"Thalia," said a singsong voice.
Thalia squeezed her fists tight and held her breath.
"I got out of my box," said the singsong voice. Then it giggled.
Thalia opened her eyes wide and jumped up, clutching the blankets so that they balled up in front of her. She didn't see anything at first.
"Silly girl," said the voice.
Then Thalia saw it. It was six feet tall, with unnaturally long, slender legs. Its head tottered at the top, with dead painted eyes. Its mouth was a gaping gash filled with thin long teeth. The tutu was voluminous.
"Dance with me," giggled the ballerina, raising herself up onto her toes and turning in a circle.
"Are you going to eat me?!"
"Dance with me Thalia!" repeated the ballerina.
There were fast footsteps on the stairs. Thalia violently threw her blanks at the ballerina and managed to cover its large head. Thalia jumped down from her bed as the ballerina stumbled and fell. Thalia ran into the legs of her mother.
"You just had a nightmare," said her mother groggily.
Thalia screamed again and pointed at the writhing mound on the floor. Her mother screamed. There were more footsteps on the stairs.
"John! John!" screamed Thalia's mother.
Her father leapt up the stairs two at a time and saw the ballerina on the floor.
"What the--oh my god, oh my god!"
He picked up Thalia and rushed her downstairs. Her mother followed close behind, then found her old softball bat in the hall closet, ran back up stairs and beat the ballerina until it stopped moving.
She pulled back the blankets. The ballerina's plastic head was split open and there was nothing inside. Sweating and shaking, she walked backwards to the top of the stairs, keeping her eyes on the ballerina.
"John?" she asked loudly down the stairwell.
"Yeah?" he replied.
"Is there a city ordinance against burning plastic in the back yard, do you know?"
"Probably," he replied.
"Damn," said Thalia's mother. "Thalia sweetie?"
"Uh huh," stammered Thalia as she clutched herself close to her father's chest.
"I don't like dolls either," replied her mother.