100% True Horror (Bad Dolls Edition)

Last night it was my turn to choose a movie. As my husband practiced the guitar (his Covid-19 learn-something-new goal) on our front porch, delighting dog-walking neighbors, the last of the day’s sun blessing his face, I spent 45 minutes surfing for a movie I haven’t seen before and my heart crisped because now that I’ve basically watched everything since #stayhome began, all that’s left is the 1 genre I just can’t: horror.

Specifically: horror based on real events.

For me, based on is code for: 100% true.

100% true horror, for me, triggers: the ‘Ringu’-scream-face.

And expletives.

My jambalaya of movie horror don’ts: Amityville. Exorcist/Omen (they might as well be 100% true). Paranormal(s). An American Haunting. Bigfoot, serial killers, schizophrenic roommates. Clowns w/no morals. Piranha (lakes to bathtubs). Creepy groundcover. And Spielberg—can: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Can’t: Poltergeist. Can: ET. Can’t: Jaws and Jaws sequels (the horror here being the horrifyingly awful quality of Jaws 2, etc.—hence: the ‘Ringu’-scream-face).

As my husband strummed the guitar and I surfed 100% true horror, I happened across a particularly vicious short horror film. Despite my jaw twitching with warning (the Ringu-scream-face!), I pressed select and watched.

My perversity will be the end of me.

A doll lives in a display case in the basement of a Victorian-ish house in Key West, FL and if you visit the doll, which has already killed multiple people, and don’t ask the doll if you can take its picture, but just take the picture and then fly home, vacation over, you will have such horrendous bad luck you will write to the doll (I guess someone reads letters addressed to the doll to the doll) and apologize for not asking the doll’s permission to take its picture and you promise in your letter never to photograph it again without asking permission and you might even have to praise the doll for best results, that part isn’t so clear, but if your letter of apology to the doll is worded in some right way, the doll will decide your run of bad luck is at an end and you may carry on living your life free of sadistic influence.

The ‘Ringu’-scream-face activated, I sprawled on the couch agonizing over who or what gave the Key West doll such power. So unfair! Why not give the power to Gloria Steinem or George Clooney or RBG? At least they’d turn the bad luck on Trump or Putin or Bolsonaro, perhaps transport them to Papillon’s island without a shade umbrella, or a Key West basement. With that doll. Forever.

I’ve been to Key West. Toured Hemingway’s house and the dark watering hole that is Capt Tony’s, lunched at Louie’s Backyard, enjoyed the breeze from Cuba while sitting on that low white wall, snorkeled? I was so impressed by Key West I tucked it away in my ‘possible other life’ file.

But after seeing a 100% true horror film on a toddler-sized doll with the power to not like you so much you become desperate, I don’t want to return to Key West. Never again will I see those cats perform tricks at sunset on Mallory Square. The entire time I’m applauding the cats I’ll be thinking about the doll. Terrible! Also, did the doll give its permission for the movie to be made? It’s the f**king star of the f**king film, so did it approve the f**king release? I guess the f**king  filmmakers f**king survived. Or did they? Never mind. I don’t want to f**king know.

I called my husband to the couch and surrendered the remote. He chose ‘The Lighthouse’ and within minutes lighthouses were ruined for us forever as the lead actors grappled with imagery you simply can’t unsee–yet I was already so traumatized by the Key West doll I hardly noticed the constant muck and murdered seabirds and rubbery mermaid and leaky tentacles. Instead, I worried the Key West doll would know I was thinking about it without its permission and come after me with its evil airwaves and I thought how unfortunate that would be as we’ve only recently moved into our un-haunted dreamhouse and I’m a busy #stayhome #staysafe mom tending a small zoo of rescued animals + 1 hormones-wracked tween forced into distance learning and I just don’t have time for bad luck and 100% true horror, not really, and I was going to ask my husband to pause ‘The (f***ing) Lighthouse’ and tell him I was pretty sure I was experiencing an anxiety attack, but I clammed up until our walk the next morning.

We studied crows guarding a nest built on the bars of a pylon dominating a grassy hill. The view from the nest would take a human’s breath away–green valley, mauve smudge of a distant mountain range, unarguably beautiful world. Vertigo dipped my brain as I imagined being in the nest, looking out.

I plopped in the dirt and shared my anxiety with my husband.

“Why am I so freaked about a doll?” I moaned, transferring earthworms from the trail to chaparral-cover.

“Unprecedented uncertain times,” my husband began.

“Yeah, yeah…”

“Tween would love the Mallory Square cats.”

What else is he COVID-19 learning, I wondered, remembering that in over a week I have not: played the piano, read a novel in the bath, sent telepathic love notes to the quail family visiting our patio each morning, forced the tween to play chess with me, napped with our cats, Zoomed a soul sister, downed vitamin D, or revised my writing.

100% true.

A couple approached with several leashed, vocal dachsunds.

“No lizards!” owners commanded their dogs. “Stay away from the lizards!”

My husband hauled me up. We slipped our masks into place, powered on.

Yours in positive metaphors,


About PB Rippey

Writer, wife, mother, grateful. Fiction, memoir, poetry, kidlit (MG), member SCBWI. pbwrites.wordpress.com
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