When Jennifer and Patrick Rogers bought a porcelain doll from a New York street vendor, the antique toy looked innocent enough.
The Columbus, Ohio natives named the doll Peter and wrapped him in a big red box for their daughter Samantha to open on her seventh birthday. Peter was a stern-looking schoolboy, about age 7 or 8, with steely blue eyes and an unsmiling gaze.
“My husband didn’t care for him, but I thought he was pretty,” Jennifer says. “Besides, I felt bad for the poor vendor.”
Jennifer couldn’t wait to give the doll to Samantha, but she soon discovered some gifts are best unsent.
“Samantha loved the doll,” Jennifer says. “The first week went well, but things got weird fast.”
It started with Samantha.
“She’d wake me up in the middle of the night, sometimes sleepwalking into my room. Or she’d wake me up giggling, and I’d find her in her room chatting and brushing Peter’s hair.”
Although pleased her daughter enjoyed her new toy, Jennifer couldn’t shake the feeling something was amiss.
“Samantha said Peter asked her to brush his hair. I laughed, then told her to go to sleep, and Peter’s makeover would have to wait until morning.”
But when Jennifer woke up to cook breakfast, she gasped. Peter was sitting in her husband’s seat at the table, and beside him was Samantha’s pink brush. He had a plate and a fork set out in front of him.
“He looked like he was waiting to be served,” Jennifer says.
Jennifer assumed her husband or daughter was playing a prank, but neither was awake. So Jennifer put Peter on the living room couch, then returned to cooking. But when she turned back around, there he was.
“Every time I’d put him in the living room, he’d return.”
Over the next few days, Jennifer convinced herself there was a rational explanation. “Dolls don’t just show up for breakfast on their own or demand midnight makeovers,” she says.
Most dolls, perhaps. But what happened next was more difficult to explain.
“About a month after Samantha’s birthday, I woke up to something brushing against my feet,” Jennifer says. “When I sat up, Peter was at the edge of my bed, like he had crawled up there.”
But that wasn’t the only thing that unsettled her.
“His eyes were watching me, kind of glistening in the shadows,” she says. “I threw a pillow over him and switched the lamp on. Then I checked Samantha’s room, but she was asleep.”
Other nights, Jennifer awoke to a boy giggling, prompting concern because Samantha was her only child.
“Sometimes I’d wake up to someone snickering or scampering through the room, but no one was there,” Jennifer says. “Other times, Peter would pop up in my bathroom. Once, I saw Peter’s face pressed against the glass while I was showering, and I screamed.”
Jennifer put Peter in the closet, but the doll reappeared on the banister. She sighs, then admits, “I almost called an exorcist.”
A few nights later, Jennifer woke up again to Samantha playing in her room.
“I went to check on her, and she was brushing Peter’s hair again and chatting, but this time Peter was talking back.”
Jennifer couldn’t believe it.
“He sounded like your average talking doll, but porcelain dolls aren’t supposed to talk. I looked for a button that made him speak but found nothing. I asked Samantha how she got him to talk but she said he did it by himself.”
That prompted Jennifer to comb the internet for answers.
“I Googled ‘talking porcelain dolls’ and variations of that phrase, but nothing.”
And another concern: “Peter said some words in English, but the rest was something else.”
Terrified, Jennifer thought about what to do next.
“We took Peter to my husband’s colleague who studies anthropology and ancient civilizations. That guy knows everything, so he was our best hope of figuring this out.”
Sure enough, Patrick’s colleague Randall identified the mystery language.
“I had to tickle Peter’s feet to get him to talk,” Jennifer says, “but then he started yapping.”
Randall listened, then gasped. “My goodness. That’s Malagasy!”
Malagasy is spoken in the picturesque African island nation Madagascar, located 250 miles off the East African coast.
“But it’s what Peter said that bothered me,” Jennifer says.
Randall didn’t care much for Peter’s messages either.
Randall shudders as he recalls that day. “I had to listen closely to make sure I heard him right,” Randall says. “At first, I thought, this can’t be right. It’s too uncouth for a child’s toy.”
In fact, Peter’s speech was so laden with Malagasy expletives, Randall had to write down the translation to share what the doll said. The content is unfit to share in its entirety, but Peter’s speech was loaded with the Malagasy equivalent of four-letter curse words, mostly one beginning with F.
Some sentences concerned Randall for other reasons. “He made threats toward Jennifer,” Randall says, pulling his arms into his chest. “But I’ll never forget what he said next: ‘Next time Jennifer locks me in the closet, she’ll regret it.’”
After they left Randall’s office, Jennifer and her husband drove in silence toward a less traveled part of town. They parked by the city bus stop, grabbed Peter, and trekked toward an empty bench.
They exchanged a glance, set Peter on the bench and sprinted away.
They haven’t seen the doll since.
Next, read about the porcelain doll that grew human toenails and terrorized his owner.
Then learn about the Hummel that neighbors are blaming for one Tallahassee man’s disappearance.