And here, story number three. I hope you are enjoying these as much as I am…
The Crochet Grandpa
My grandma Florence passed away last weekend, and after the service concluded, we all drove teary-eyed to her old house to pick up keepsakes. My sister Lucy got the heavy, bronze Art Deco lamp we used to marvel at, and my parents picked up her old photo albums. I headed up into the attic to look for mementos small enough for my little apartment, and I opened a chest that I’d found by the window. My heart pounded and I gasped for air, processing suppressed memories of what lay folded in that chest.
The highlights of my childhood had always been of sleeping over grandma and grandpa’s house for a week at a time during fall and winter, when my mom was out-of-state for work. My sister Lucy and I would get so excited on our way to the grandparents house, eager to watch R-rated action movies with grandpa Abe while grandma prepared a delicious dinner. I’d cozy up on the footrest of grandpa’s plush, la-z-boy recliner while Lucy bounced on the long sofa set in a sugar high. We’d eat plenty of iced cream and chocolaty cereals, and we’d live like spoiled royalty when there. When grandpa began struggling to stay awake and slowing down, he saw a doctor who explained he urgently needed a pacemaker. He went under for the surgery one day and he never woke up.
Grandma Florence was absolutely devastated. The two of them had been together since high school, and she fell into an overwhelming depression soon after his death. We’d visit every so often to try and cheer her up, but even as a child of seven, I could tell by her distant gaze that she was absolutely heartbroken. Almost half a year later, my aunt announced she was pregnant, and my grandma began crocheting little hoodies and beanies for my cousin to wear when he arrived. Her hobby became an obsession after her loss, and she began to crochet mittens, scarves and sweaters for the unborn kid, mailing them practically faster than my aunt could unwrap them.
At the end of September, my parents suggested my sister and I spend a week at grandma’s place for the first time since losing grandpa. We packed our clothes and books into the station wagon and then bounced along during the bumpy car ride through the countryside to grandma’s place with building excitement. Soon enough, that small little farmhouse with old windows and floors that creaked appeared on the horizon. As a kid, that little house seemed like a massive mansion of awaiting adventure as we’d pull into the driveway.
It was a Friday evening, the sun just beginning to sink orange on the horizon. We were greeted by our lone grandma’s glowing smile and twinkling eyes amid her silver, tied up hair. The car heaved to a stop and we rushed out the back doors and up into her open arms for hugs. My sister and I giggled as we ran in and kicked off our boots, just like old times as the parents talked. As we entered the living room, however, I stopped in my tracks and froze at the sight of that thing on grandpa’s blue, plush recliner.
Propped upright in the seat was a human-sized doll made of frizzy yarn, with crocheted pink skin and a white, tasseled mustache resembling grandpa’s. My jaw hung down as I realized it was wearing my grandpa’s khakis and striped yellow button-down shirt. My little sister looked as confused as I. Curiosity led us around the recliner and we stared into the life-sized doll’s woven yarn face. It looked somehow obscene, the tiny button eyes sat in thick, pink lids over a horrid mouth that didn’t look right. We screamed as cold, wrinkled hands slid onto our shoulders from behind us.
“Oh, don’t be frightened, he’s just a doll!” grandma sang in a chipper tone. Perhaps I might not have been so upset if she’d captured the likeness of our grandpa Abe, but that pink thing she’d woven together on that couch held only the slightest resemblance. On that minimal face was a lopsided, pink triangle nose and small, beady eyes. Under the white yarn mustache, a mouth of white, oval teeth were framed by puffy, pink lips that looked far creepier than grandpa’s warm smile she’d tried to capture.
That evening in the kitchen, I poked at a melting lump of ice cream in a bowl with my spoon as we talked about what we were going to ask Santa for, come Christmas time. I tried to just enjoy the company of my grandma, and I was truly glad she seemed happy again, but my gaze kept drifting to that stitched, pink hand on the recliner armrest, visible from my seat in the kitchen. It was freaky-looking and unsettling, yet it seemed to fill some void left by Abe’s death for her, so I just bit my tongue as the evening slipped into night.
We eventually headed back to the living room to watch some low-budget movie Lucy had picked from the shelf of VHS tapes, and I exhaled with relief when grandma picked up that large, creepy, crochet man and took it out of the room, aware I was staying clear of it. I watched the face of that doll as she walked away with it, its head staring over her shoulder as if watching me.
My sister conked out for the night soon after my grandma while I stayed up late, enthralled by the glow of GoldenEye on the large-screen TV in the den. As the credits eventually rolled and I was transported back to life as a small child, I pressed stop on the remote and felt small and vulnerable in the dark shadows of the house. I practically tiptoed over the carpet into the shadowy hall, trying to get that awful face of that giant doll out of my head. I climbed the soft, carpeted stairs quickly, and I ran into the guest room and dove under the covers after shutting the door completely.
I woke in the dead of night from a creaking sound from inside the bedroom. I stared at Lucy’s bed and saw she was fast asleep, balled up under the layered blankets with just a tuft of her blonde hair sticking out from under them. My eyes fought to adjust to the dim, blue light of the room, and I strained to lift my head as I noticed the door. It was cracked slightly, maybe 2 inches at the most, but in that thin sliver, I saw that beady, crochet eye, watching me. I don’t remember falling asleep that night. I just remember staring at that eye in the gap of the door for hours, filled with absolute terror. I’d prayed my mind was playing tricks as time stretched on. I eventually passed out from exhaustion.
The next day I was woken by the smell of bacon and pancakes. I was under-slept and on edge, and the clatter of dishes startled me as I meandered downstairs to the kitchen to join grandma and Lucy at the kitchen table. I thanked her for the plate of syrupy goodness and loaded my fork with a whopping, fluffy bite. Grandma tousled the hair on my sleepy head before she walked over to get the orange juice. I was about to bite in when I looked past the kitchen into the dining room and I dropped my fork with a loud clang. Seated there at the long, dining room table was that horrifying crochet man, propped upright and facing me, those little, unfeeling eyes locked onto mine.
“Grandma, it’s staring at me!” I finally blurted out and felt warm, salty tears flow down my face. “It was looking in at me in our room last night and I couldn’t sleep!” I cried, wiping my snotty nose with my sleeve. My grandmother rushed back over to hug my head in her soft, wrinkly arms.
“Oh my sweet dear, it’s just a doll! Like all those stuffed animals I made you as a kid, there’s nothing to be afraid of.” She tried to console me by walking over and picking it up from the seat and bringing it over to me. “Just touch it, you’ll see. It’s just wire, yarn and stuffing, nothing to be afraid of, honey.” She pulled my small hand over to touch the woven skin and I squeezed, feeling the soft cotton like the stuffed animals I’d owned as a child. I breathed out in relief, realizing how silly and scared I was acting, but then felt something inside that arm twitch and I screamed.
It felt like a thin, bony cat’s leg but much, much longer. Lean muscle tensed and flexed and I saw the arm bend slightly at the crook of the elbow in reaction. I screamed and scrambled back on the old linoleum kitchen floor, staring at the large, crochet grandpa doll that sat there, staring dead into my eyes with that terrible, toothy face. Grandma lifted me by the shoulders, trying to calm me down with her back to that dummy. I screamed as I watched the long, crocheted limbs bend back, as if something was wearing that mesh-work man like a costume worn the wrong way. The large doll rapidly scampered the few feet around the corner on all four, backward-bending limbs, and I blacked out.
When I woke up, I was in the guest bedroom, my mother standing over me, wiping the sweat from my head. I’d a high fever, and they attributed what I saw to my temperature and a ‘child’s imagination’, despite my insistence it was real. I drooled as I cried hysterically, telling my mom that the doll was alive, I saw it move on its own, I had felt it. My parents repeatedly told me there was a wire armature within to keep the form, and apologized extensively to my grandma. They decided to drive us back early due to my fever. My resentment for them not believing me quickly vanished after I’d gotten well, when I realized how absolutely absurd it all sounded.
I saw my grandma plenty after that weekend, but never saw that doll again. she told me she put it in storage because of my episode that day. “Nothing scares my favorite grandson and gets away with it,” she’d said with a sly smile, and with that it was gone and quickly forgotten. The years passed and I spent plenty of time with my grandmother, listening to her sage advice as I fell in and out of love and changed multiple jobs after landing in the city. I’d bring her desserts my fiancée baked years later when she became too sore from arthritis to cook. My grandma was my favorite person until her passing last week in her sleep. A week before today.
30 years after that weekend, I stared down at that folded, life-sized doll in the chest, reliving those disturbing memories that flooded back. Opening that lid had released a pungent, gamy smell that lingered in the dusty, attic air. Along the interior of the wooden chest were dozens of long claw marks, gouging splintered grooves out from the old wood. My eyes widened and my heart pounded as I looked down at the bottom right corner of the chest, which had burst outward from the inside. Old, white stuffing trailed out from the chest along the dusty planks of the attic, over to the broken glass windowpane overlooking the woods beyond.
I can’t stop replaying the horrifying events of that weekend, that now seem unquestionably real, over and over again. I can’t tell whether something somehow grew to adulthood inside of that cotton to fill out the shape, or whether something had slipped inside it at some point. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know the answer. What I do know is I haven’t yet found a keepsake from grandma’s possessions.
Just something I desperately need to burn.
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