Last year I bought a haunted doll off eBay.
Her name is Mary. She sits on my desk looking mostly innocent and occasionally terrifying my co-workers. Sometimes I think I see her move, but maybe it's just because I've bumped my desk.
Initially, the only "proof" I had that the doll was haunted came from the eBay seller, who'd described her as such, and a ghost-hunting app that picked up ghostly messages around her like "nightmare" and "bones."
But I wanted to be sure. I wanted the testimony of a paranormal expert: someone who could potentially communicate with ghosts. In other words, I wanted to consult a psychic medium. In my search for such an expert, I wrote some of the weirdest emails of my life: "Hey, could you do a reading on my haunted doll?" A few psychics said no, refusing to work with "earthbound spirits." I could not blame them. Haunted dolls have kind of a bad reputation.
But one psychic, Jane Doherty, was kind enough to agree to do a reading on my doll. She invited me and my doll to her home in New Jersey. I've had the doll for months and I've grown comfortable around her. I'm not really scared of her, per se, but still, there's no way I would take her into my home. I keep her strictly at the office, just in case… her ghost runs wild at night? I don't know.
When it was time to go, I felt a little weird shoving her into a backpack to take her on a train. I hoped it didn't upset her.
A few hours later I walked up to Jane the psychic's house carrying my doll-filled backpack. But just as I was about to ring the doorbell, a woman — Jane's daughter, it turned out — opened the door, and carried her baby to a car parked outside. (Later I learned that Jane asked her daughter to remove the baby from the home because of my haunted doll. "Young babies still see the spirit world," Jane explained.)
Jane greeted me, led me into her office, and immediately took out two crystal skulls, which she said have a protective energy: "I have to have them for something haunted."
"May I take out my doll?" I asked. This felt like a weird thing to say as an adult in any scenario, but I felt it was important to ask permission before busting out a creepy doll. I set my doll on the desk. Jane then took my hand and said a prayer — standard procedure before dealing with a haunted object. She looked at the doll, without touching it, to get an initial read on its energy. I was ready for her to say that the doll wasn't haunted. I mean, how haunted can something labeled "haunted" on eBay really be?
"It doesn't feel haunted," she said. "But it has a gentle energy."
So that was it. Mary was just a regular doll. But then, Jane picked her up.
"Whoa!" she gasped. "I'm looking into her eyes and I get the feeling of someone looking back at me. She's gotta be haunted because this is wild. I know that she's haunted."
I didn't expect such a definitive diagnosis. Jane has a personal test she uses to detect spirits — a physical response in her body when a ghost is near. "I will expand anywhere from three and a half to five inches," she explained. "That's how I can determine if something is haunted or not. Watch my stomach." She backed away from the doll. Her stomach deflated. She stepped toward the doll. Her stomach inflated again. According to the stomach test, the doll was definitely haunted.
Still, Jane assured me that it wasn't evil.
"It's definitely not malevolent," she said. "This one is not scary at all."
As she held the doll, she described details about the spirit connected to it. The doll I knew as Mary contained the ghost of a girl who died when she was 8 or 9 years old. She had owned the doll. She died of a high fever. She was sad and isolated and possibly lived on a farm in the Midwest. She was shy, with dirty blonde hair. She was an only child, alive during the 1950s. When she died, she clung to the doll. Jane said a person's emotional attachment to something while they're alive can cause them to haunt the object when they die.
Alarmingly, some of Jane's details about the ghost's backstory matched the original eBay seller's description of the doll's ghost.
Both said the ghost was that of a shy girl alive in the 1950s in the Midwest — though the eBay listing said the girl had black hair, not dirty blonde. Ghost hair color aside, I was about to get some disturbing information — something that made me question my decision to have a psychic reading done on any haunted object.
"Once you do a reading on a haunted doll, you start to get more activity," Jane said. "You open it up."
Getting a reading of the doll apparently makes it even more haunted, increasing any paranormal activity around it. That wasn't my goal. At all. Jane predicted I would now hear such creepy ghost sounds as a ball dropping, footsteps, and giggling. Basically, the entire terrifying opening sequence of Are You Afraid Of The Dark?
But what was the ghost girl's opinion, if any, of me? Jane said, "She's telling me she's happy that you found her. In essence, you've become her mother."
Wait, I'm this ghosts's MOM now? I wasn't sure that was a role I was ready to fill. I guess the lesson here is: Don't buy a haunted doll unless you're ready to be a haunted doll's mother figure. I felt guilty for being such a crappy mom, especially because I didn't even realize I was one.
"She'll become more protective of you," Jane added. "You may feel her holding onto you like a little girl."
She's going to TOUCH me?
Jane went on. "She doesn't feel lonely anymore. She feels like she belongs again. She feels comforted that you have her. I get a vision of you walking along and a hand grabs your hand."
Heartwarming and bone-chilling. I never thought this would involve holding hands with a ghost child. At the end of the reading I had just one question: Was the ghost bound to the location of the doll, or can she follow me around? The answer: She can follow me around. Of course she can. My brilliant plan to leave the doll at the office was pointless. I'm her ghost mommy now, and you can't just ditch your ghost child.
Just before I left, Jane predicted something else: "I'll get a frantic phone call from you saying, 'Help, she's around me all the time. She won't let me sleep.'"
Perfect. Great. Ever since the reading, I've looked into my doll's eyes many times, trying to see the movement Jane described. They're expressive eyes, but I don't see them looking back. Perhaps that's why I'm not a medium.
You could easily say that none of this is real. But the night after the reading, as I envisioned a ghost child's hand reaching out to me, I definitely couldn't sleep. And if I ever hear giggles and footsteps in my house at night — forget it. I'm the worst mom ever.