Ash’s last memory of his late mom was a request to bring her to the living room where Carina, the antique bisque doll she had brought from France, was enclosed in a glass tube.
His mother had always been obsessed with it, talking to it as if it’s alive. He could sometimes hear his mother argue with the human-like doll, laugh with it, and cry with it. He used to shrug it off as a coping mechanism, his mother’s way to cope with her thoughts – she had depression.
Ash had always thought of the doll as beautiful, but he has always been wary of it. As a kid, he had always felt that the doll visited him in his room while he was asleep. He used to wake up every 3 am, his eyes automatically landing on a shadowed part of his room. He could see a vague silhouette of a human and could hear someone calling his name, but he never allowed himself to come closer.
He had told his parents about these visits, but his dad never believed him.
Surprisingly, his mom did. But even before hope flared in his chest, she simply smiled and told him that Carina was simply looking out for him. That the doll always had his best interests at heart.
His mom had always treated the doll as if it was alive.
That never sounded right to him.
The nightly visits had stopped when he became a teenager. But for some reason, he had felt more wary of the doll.
For one, he could feel its stares boring at his back whenever he passed by the living room. He was always tempted to look back, but he was scared that if he did, he would see something that would make him wish he never did.
He was in college when he decided that the doll was probably cursed, or worse, possessed.
His girlfriend was murdered that day she met the doll.
Her body was mutilated, as if attacked by a beast. Her heart was nowhere to be found. Her eyes were open, as if she was forced to stare at the eyes of her murderer while the murderer was tearing off her flesh piece by piece.
“She’s beautiful, Ash. Her eyes seem to be alive.”
Those were his girlfriend’s last words.
He had left home after the incident.
But he had always felt as if he had left something else.
Ash was living his life peacefully, memories of his past deeply buried at the back of his mind, until his dad called, begging him to come home because his mom was dying.
It was a shock to him. His mom had always been healthy.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked his dad as the older man closed the door to the Master’s bedroom.
“She didn’t want me too,” his dad replied.
“Is there really no chance?”
“I’m sorry, son,” his dad’s tone was somber.
“It’s okay, dad. It’s out of anyone’s control.”
Ash was just relieved he got to be with his mom during her last days.
He was looking after her one afternoon when he received a strange request from his mom.
“Ash, can you leave us?”
Ash was confused at first. “Leave? Mom? Are you okay?”
He received a tired but genuine smile from the older woman.
“Yes. Can you please leave us?” Her mom’s words were directed towards him, but her eyes were on something else’s, making him turn to see where they’re falling.
He found himself staring at the round eyes of her mom’s favorite doll.
“Leave… you? With this… doll?”
“Her name is Carina. And yes. I need to tell her something.”
His mom talking to the doll was not unusual, but for some reason, he didn’t want to leave her alone this time.
“Fine,” Ash replied. He stood up, forcing himself not to look back at the doll, and left the room.
He didn’t move too far just in case, but he couldn’t hear what his mother was mumbling either.
After a few minutes, he heard his mom call him.
“You ready to rest?” He asked, still trying not to stare at the doll.
“Yes, I am.”
He helped her out of the room, his hand around her waist.
He swore he heard his name being uttered just before the door closed.
He ignored it.
His mom’s last few days gone by so fast. But both he and his dad had learned to accept that soon, she would be taken away from them.
“Ash, your mother wants to talk to you,” his dad knocked in his room one night. There was sadness in his eyes that told him they’re both thinking the same.
His mom would die. Soon.
“I’ll be there in a few, dad.”
Ash entered the room and knelt on the side of his mom’s bed.
Her mom looked so weak, as if she was just holding on for him. Ash squeezed her hand, his eyes beginning to water at the realization that soon was now.
“Mom, he whispered. “Dad and I, we’ll be okay. You can… rest now, if you want.”
His mom smiled weakly. “I love you, Ash. I love you and your dad so much.”
“I love you, mom. I love you so much. But… please… don’t worry about me and dad. We will be… fine.”
“I know,” she replied softly. “But I still made sure someone will take care of you.”
“We’ll be fine, Mom.”
“Not your Dad. You.”
He paused, confused. “What do you mean?”
“I made a sacrifice, my son. And it will be worth it.”
“What… Mom, what are you saying?”
His Mom simply shook her head. “She will take care of you. I’ve been preparing for this.”
“Son, trust me. You will be in good hands.”
“But who is this she you are talking about? And what sacrifice?”
His mom simply smiled again. “Just… just promise me you will accept her. She’s been very patient for years.”
Before he could ask another question, his mom suddenly shivered, and then she just closed her eyes.
And Ash knew that she would never wake up again.
He leaned in to kiss his mom on the forehead and stood up to get his dad.
It’s only when he noticed it.
The doll was inside the Master’s bedroom. Carina’s tube was placed at the corner of the room.
He immediately averted his gaze and left the room.
When Ash came back with his father and grandmother, who wanted to be there during the last days of her daughter, he failed to notice one tiny detail.
His mom was wearing the same dress as Carina’s.
And the same shoes.
And the same… smile.
The funeral was held at a chapel near the cemetery.
Ash was just a bit glad to get away from their house for a while. He couldn’t shake away that bad feeling, most especially whenever he recalled his Mom’s last words.
His mom was buried three days later.
After the burial, his grandma joined him at the living room. She was about to leave in a bit.
“Promise me. Promise me that you will not succumb.”
Ash looked at her, confused. “Succumb?”
His grandmother’s eyes flickered towards something behind him. Ash noticed how the old woman shivered.
“Your… Mom… used to be a loner when she was a kid. Her only friends were her… dolls.”
His silence prompted his grandma to continue.
“She… made promises as a kid and… we don’t make promises to… Ash… listen to me well.”
“When I was a kid, my mother tells me that dolls have… souls. They are temporary vessels to estranged souls that roam around the earth. These souls… come and go. But not all of them are… harmless.”
“What do you mean, Lola?”
“Estranged souls are supposed to leave after a while when heaven calls for them. But there are those who don’t leave, their desire to stay on earth is still strong. When this happens their contract w/ heaven… expires.”
“So you mean…”
“Yes. These souls remain inside their chosen vessels instead of coming to hell where they knew they will suffer for eternity. But… they’re also willing if…”
“If they can find someone to suffer hell with,” his grandma concluded.
Ash studied his grandma. “And this is connected to Mom in what way, Lola?”
“Like I told you… your Mom talks to dolls. And… dolls are… vessels.”
“Lola, are you telling me that she sort of arranged my marriage or something with a soul?” He joked, trying to diffuse the tension his grandmother’s tone was causing.
“There is nothing funny about this, Ash.”
“I am not a Ghost Groom, Lola.” It was his last attempt at trying to be funny, but his smile fell when he saw how… scared his grandma looked.
“I am not… saying you are. But… Ash… I…”
His grandmother’s eyes flickered behind him again.
“Wag kang lilingon,” his Lola warned, her voice soft but edgy. “She… she is staring at us.”
“Your… Mom’s doll.”
Ash could have laughed, but a sudden chill told him his grandma was not lying.
“Apo, listen to me,” she said. “I will… leave and… try to hold her off until midnight. You still have protection until 12 midnight. But go as far away from this place as possible.”
“But… Lola… why? What is happening?”
His grandma glanced at Carina.
“She is angry. She’s been waiting for this and I’m trying to stop her. I’ll leave and she would follow me.”
“I have… something she needs before…” Her eyes were now totally focused on the doll.
“Apo,” her voice was now a whisper. “You have at least a week. Make the most of it.”
“But…” he almost turned to look, but his grandma was able to pull him.
“I said… don’t look. Ash… never ever look at that doll in the eyes
before you leave. Let her focus on me and me alone. Please. Leave… leave this room. And I will leave in a while too. After an hour, you leave this house and never look back – do you understand?“
“But… how about you and Dad?” Ash still couldn’t comprehend what was happening, but his instinct told him he needed to listen to his grandma.
“Your dad will be safe. She can’t harm someone who has a direct bond with your mom.”
“So… you’re safe too. And I’m… lola, shouldn’t I be—“
“I am. But you are not. You won’t be. Until she finds another you.”
He stilled. “What does that mean? I… lola, what’s– will I run away from her forever?”
His grandma shook her head, her eyes never leaving the doll’s.
“No. You won’t be. But there is a sacrifice. You have… you have to find someone who is willing to take your place. And… I know just the right person.”
His grandma’s words intrigued Ash.
“Who? Who’ll be sane enough to take my place?”
“Your twin brother.”
“I… what? A… twin brother? I have a twin brother?”
“Yes, you have.”
“But… how? Does dad…”
“He doesn’t know.”
“Your Mom made a lot of promises, Ash. And they never involved… normal people. She had… it’s my fault. I never noticed how sad she had become. She found a way to cope with her depression, and it had consequences.”
Ash wanted to say something, but he found himself silenced by the circumstance.
“Your brother… he was a consequence of this. And he would have died, but… I have managed to save him. You… were forbidden to know about him. You still are.”
“And now you’re willing to sacrifice him for me? He is your grandson too!” This all sounded absurd.
“Ash, calm down, please. Your brother’s life is borrowed. He is meant to… sacrifice his life and he knows it.”
“This is stupid, Lola.”
“It is. But sacrificing your brother is the only thing that will end this.”
“He’ll be going to hell if I allow this!”
“He won’t. But if it’s you, you will. I can promise heaven for your brother, but hell is the only place waiting for you.”
“I–” This was happening too fast.
“Find him, Ash. Find him before she finds you. And you will both be okay.”
“What will I do after I find him?” he asked. “Do I kill him?”
His grandmother’s smile was sad.
“No. Wait for her together and let her kill him.”