I received the singing doll from my uncle back when I was little.
It was a usual thing for our relatives to pass around toys and books in the family, from the older children to the younger, so that everything could be thoroughly exploited by the many ruthless children hands. So when my father told me that I’ve just got some new toys that afternoon, I was already half expecting something second-handed, which I’ve probably seen during all the family visits.
Don’t get me wrong. I was not some annoyance taking up the form of a spoiled child. A toy was a toy, and I would always be happy to have toys. Simple as that. But I also had those small dreams sweet-spirited children hid deep in their mind: that I could some day get a really fancy new toy for my own.
‘It seems the mailman might have broken his back delivering the package here,’ chuckled my father, always with a sense of humor.
In the living room sat a tall box — too tall from my child view — of plain cardboard. It looked as if a mountain of toys could be piled up in there.
‘Go on, let’s see the hidden treasure.’
With my father’s gentle urge, I stood on a little stool, tore off the tape on the box, and opened the package.
Inside was a large wooden doll and a carved toy wardrobe.
‘Wow….’ It might sounded like a pleasant surprise, but the truth was that I was a bit scared when I first saw the doll.
The set seemed…old. Old and delicate in a way that you might expect the doll and its wardrobe to be put in some museum glass box, with a tag saying something like: ‘Owned by XXX, 19th century’. I don’t know. I hardly go to any museum at all.
My father scratched his chin. ‘Hmm, I’ve never seen this one at Uncle Keith’s before. You think Uncle Keith got it from someone else?’
‘Maybe. From his baldy neighbor?’ I suggested, feeling a bit more relaxed because of the distraction.
My father chuckled and ruffled my hair. ‘You little thing. Come on, let’s get these out of the box.’
Both the doll and wardrobe were of painted wood, with the paint chipped here and there but not enough to mar the overall look. It was difficult to tell the gender of the doll, since although its clothing was of a 19th century boy, its face somehow held a surprisingly strong sense of femininity.
Seeing that I was hesitant to reach out and grab the doll from the box, my father picked the doll and its wardrobe up with ease, and had the doll facing me. Those artificial eyes without eyelids stared straight at me. He then moved the movable jaw joint of the doll around, and squeaked in a high pitched voice: ‘Hello, nice to meet you! You look very lovely!’
‘Dad! Stop!’ Though the sight of the doll talking was a bit unnerving, I as a young kid couldn’t help but laughed at my father’s silly act.
My father got up and gently pushed the doll and wardrobe into my arms. ‘Go play now, lucky boy. I still have to get the kitchen sink fixed before your mother comes back.’
I got back to my room and started to examine the doll more closely. By examine, I mean one thing most children would do at least once to any doll — taking off its clothes. An asexual body of smooth wooden surface, with the paint better preserved under the clothing. In short, it was as dull as the wardrobe.
That was when I noticed something.
A fine line ran across and around the doll’s abdomen, showing a possible cavity in the torso. I tried to pry the doll open, but my fingernails were too weak, and my plastic ruler was too thick. Eventually I gave up and started to put the doll back into its clothes.
And I accidentally pressed the corner of my ruler into the doll’s navel.
Immediately the doll started to sing. The song itself couldn’t be more average. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.
There was no lyrics, only the notes and tune. The doll’s jaw flapped up and down unrhythmically as the song went on, with the tune stiff and eerie as if roughly patched together from a pile of notes.
I froze upon hearing the song, unexplainably sick from the heart. When the song stopped, I shot up like some scared animal and rushed to my father.
‘What’s wrong, little man? Are you alright?’
‘The doll! It’s the doll!’
In gasps and with waving arms I told my father what I found, and showed him the song of the doll. This time the sound of the notes was a bit different, as if someone else was singing. But the stiffness and eeriness remained unchanged.
My father appeared to be a little caught off guard by the song at first, but recovered quickly: ‘A singing doll, huh? Guess Uncle Keith has just brought up the family toy standard. Let me see…aha!’
My father pointed at the left sole of the doll. ‘This is where you keep the batteries. Let me know when the batteries die off and the doll can’t sing anymore.’
The calmness of my father and the casual way he dealt with the unnerving doll song held my own panic in check. If dad saw nothing wrong, then there probably was nothing wrong, right?
But something still felt off to my young mind. So I returned to my room, buried the doll and wardrobe deep in a box, and stowed them away, planning never to see them again. And I made sure to pull the batteries out, in case something triggered the doll by accident, causing it to sing in the middle of the night.
After that I pretty much forgot all about the doll. Perhaps I subconsciously was trying hard to forget the terrifying song. Either way, it wasn’t until my parents decided to sell the house that I saw the doll and wardrobe again after all these years. Memories came back to mind, but I was no longer scared of it. Just one of the many childhood terrors, nothing more.
One day I mentioned the doll in passing to a friend who worked as a sound designer. He got intrigued by this ancient episode, and asked to listen to the doll song in person. Happy to give the doll away, I packed it and the wardrobe in a box — much like the way they first came to my home — and sent the package off to my friend.
A few days later, my friend showed up at my rented apartment, pale-faced, carrying the doll and wardrobe, obviously shaken.
From his nervous babble, I eventually got to understand the whole thing.
The song of the singing doll, according to my friend, was probably no song at all.
It was difficult to deconstruct an already existing sound file, so he tried various ways to make a song like the doll’s, and the result was sickening.
The many versions of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star recorded in the doll were probably composed by putting different scream sounds together to form a tune, with a little twitch. It was as if whoever did this had a whole set of sick musical scales of human screams at his or her disposal.
My friend also said the screams were all muffled, as if the screamer’s mouths were covered.
Or locked up in a wardrobe.
(This story was originally posted on NoSleep reddit.)