The Doll

I hit 30 followers on my Facebook page yesterday! To celebrate, here is the snippet from The Undying Ones – Revenants that I promised.

Mattie was the first to see her.

She had not planned on going to her father’s workshop that day. It was well known that the Toymaker had a terrible temper – a temper that had only grown worse as the years had passed and the madness that afflicted them all eventually had taken hold – and he did not like anyone, not even his own daughter, prowling through his things. However Mattie had broken her mask while scavenging for supplies around the castle and only the Toymaker had the resin that would hold the pieces together.

His workshop was an old barn that leaned heavily against the thick outer bailey wall. Light flickered through the gaping holes between the rotting boards, casting dim shadows that danced across the barren ground outside. Mattie watched for a moment, indecision threatening her resolve; was her father in there? If he was, would he even remember her if he saw her? His confusion had increased over the years, and it made her chest ache when she saw him wandering the halls and he didn’t recognize her. Maybe she should come back later, during the day when everyone was asleep…

She shook her head to clear her thoughts. No, she couldn’t wait till later – she had to fix her mask or face the consequences if she was caught her without it.

She forced herself to creep from shadow to shadow, moving slowly and painstakingly closer to the door. She had honed her skills over the years while playing with her friends in the decaying castle, and she knew she could be as quiet as a mouse, but she still found herself uttering a small prayer that her father would not hear her approach – she did not think she could handle his madness after everything else that had happened tonight.

For a second time her fear almost got the better of her, and she froze against the side of the barn. She didn’t really need her mask. After all, the others went around without any masks on all the time, so why should she have to wear one? Her father was the only one that insisted she wear it constantly… or so Rordan and Talesin, her friends, told her. She assumed it was because he couldn’t stand that his daughter was not as beautiful as the dolls he used to create. However, looks did not matter much anymore – they were all as ugly as the gargoyles guarding the castle walls.

She felt naked without the comforting weight of the mask on her face though, and so she pushed forward, edging along the weathered walls of the barn, pausing occasionally to look again and again for any movement inside. There was still no sign of any life inside the barn, and Mattie allowed herself to breathe a little easier. She eased the doors open just wide enough to allow her to slip in.

Once upon a time, the Toymaker’s workshop had been clean and organized, but that was before the bad times… before the plague and the curse. Now the inside of the workshop was cluttered, packed with discarded nick-knacks, furniture, and other bits and pieces of junk. A thick film of dust covered everything and cobwebs hung in the corners and stretched from the roof to various objects below.

She weaved around piles of broken spindles and shattered mirrors and then ducked under a fallen beam. Long shelves lined the back wall and she picked through the cluttered mess on them, pushing aside pots of paint, rusty scissors, and bits of thread in her search. This had been where he had kept it – or so she thought – but there was resin anywhere on the shelves.

She stared at them, chewing on a lip as she tried to think of where it might have gone to. Had someone assumed that it was food and eaten it? The resin was made out of animal bones, sap, and eggs, among other things, so she it might be edible. No matter how hungry she became though, she couldn’t imagine eating it as it stuck to high heaven. There was a chance that he had moved it since then, but the thick layer of grime covering everything told her that that was unlikely. Maybe it had fallen off the shelf…

She crouched, searching the ground near the shelves and caught a glint of something metallic underneath the shelves. The resin! She dug the jar out, laid the pieces of her broken mask out on the ground, and, holding her breath against the fumes, she began to glue them together.

“Don’t worry,” Mattie whispered to it as she started to piece it back together. “You’ll be back to normal in no time at all.” 

Rumor in the great hall that night was that the birds who used to nest in the cracks in the castle walls had finally returned. While the others plotted ways to catch the birds and add them to the communal stew, Mattie had been far more excited about the prospect of fresh eggs. It had been years since she had tasted meat, but even longer since she had had a fresh hard boiled egg. After years of subsiding on nuts and berries that fell from the few trees able to cling to the mountain slope that lead up to the castle, and whatever odds and ends could be scrounged up to add to the sludge in the cauldron, the prospect of having a fresh egg or two made her mouth water and her stomach grumble.

Deciding that she would claim the eggs before anyone else could, Mattie had ducked out of the Great Hall before anyone noticed and made her way to the collapsed outer wall. She had clambered over it, following it around until the wall joined the sharp mountain side, peering up into the shadows for any signs of a bird’s nest as she walked. She did not see one, but near the waterfall that thundered against the Northern edge of the castle, she did catch sight of a bird taking off from a cliff. 

The rocks and the wall by the waterfall were dangerous. They were often slippery from mist, and were covered in thick layers of moss. However Mattie was small and quick and sure of hand and foot. Believing that there would be a nest where she had seen the bird, she began to climb toward it.

She had been doing quite well until she had been distracted by the lights behind the waterfall. 

She had stared at them, entranced. It was well known that there wasn’t any space behind the waterfall. First she had glanced at the moon, assuming that they must be a reflection of its light on the water. However, the light from the moon was bluish, and the lights in the waterfall were golden like candle lights. Finally she closed her eyes, thinking that perhaps she was just seeing things – but when she reopened them, the lights were still there, bobbing behind the curtain of water. In her attempt to get closer so she could investigate the source of the mystery, she had slipped and fallen. Thankfully she had managed to catch herself from falling any further, but her mask had come loose and it shattered against the rocks beneath her. When she had looked for the lights again, they were gone. Torn between pursuing them or fixing her mask, she eventually found herself climbing down and gathering the pieces of her mask up. Now, here she sat, gluing it back together.

“I’ll be more careful next time.” She promised the mask as she worked. 

Once she finished, she sat back and surveyed her work while it dried. The results were not the prettiest – the resin oozed between the cracks in thick gray lines marring the white face – however it would do. “See? All fixed.”

The mask was silent.

She snorted to herself – and they called her father the crazy one. Even though he might not recognize where he was or the people around him most of the time, at least he didn’t talk to inanimate objects as if he expected a response.

A sharp gust of wind shook the barn. It startled her, making her jump in surprise and almost drop her mask again. She grabbed it before it could crash to the ground and clutched it to her chest with a sigh of relief. The wind rattled the walls again, making the timbers shake and groan, and somewhere in the shadows she could hear the whisper of fabric. Had her father returned? She turned around, looking for the source. Thankfully the barn was still empty – but now she noticed heavy black curtains sectioning a corner off from the rest of the barn.

How very odd. Was her father working on something again? She didn’t think he was still capable of building things! At some point during the chaos after the curse, his hands and fingers had been broken. Rordan said it was because the King’s Guards had tortured him after the queen had disappeared, because they thought he might know where she had gone. However Talesin claimed it was because the Guards enjoyed torturing people, often pulling their victims out of their bed for no reason at all – which was how he and his brother had both gotten the scars on their face. Regardless of how her father had been injured though, his hands had never been set properly and had become gnarled over time until he could barely use them. 

He had stopped working, and taken to wandering the halls at night. Perhaps that was why his mind was so shattered; those who had something to do, like the guards, seemed to keep sane better, while those who didn’t, like her father, went mad and forgot themselves and their families. 

But if he was building something again… 

She knew she should run – the Toymaker could return at any moment – however she longed to see what was on the other side of the curtains. Would it be as pretty and majestic as that mechanical bird that he had made for the Queen? It had rusted over the years, and become frozen still, but she had heard stories of its former glory. Or would it be twisted like his poor hands? Her curiosity finally won out over her common sense and she pushed the curtain open and stepped inside.

Mattie blinked, letting her eyes adjust to the brightness. The room beyond was like another world; it was spotless and bright compared to the chaos beyond the curtain. Someone had taken the time to sweep the stone floors clean of dirt and dust all the shelves. Lit candles sat on every available surface, their light magnified by the mirrors that hung on the walls and ceiling.

She quickly pulled on her mask, not wanting to see her wretched face reflected tenfold. She needn’t worry though as the mirrors were all angled towards a table that sat in the middle of the room. A blanket covered it, hiding something lumpy figure from sight. A hand stuck out from under the blanket. Its nails and fingertips were a dark purple, almost, but the rest of its skin was as pale as her porcelain mask.

She frowned to herself. Her father made a doll? But why? There were no more children around to appreciate such a thing, and the Queen, who had loved dolls and the Toymaker’s other creations, was long gone. She had disappeared ages ago, during the chaos that had ensued after the castle had been cursed.

And where had he gotten the supplies to make such a thing anyways? They were trapped here without any way to escape: the villagers had blocked the gates with rubble and destroyed the bridge when they had learned of what was going on in the castle. It was possible that he might have had supplies left over from before, but the King had demanded that his subjects turn in any supplies that might possibly sustain them once he had discovered the Villager’s treachery. Leather might not have much nourishment to it, but it could be boiled down into gruel. It tasted horrible, but it took the edge off of the constant hunger in their bellies.

She ran a fingertip over the back of the hand; the hide was smooth to the touch. Even if her father had found a way to secret it away, such fine leather should have dried out and cracked long ago. He had even carved bones for this thing and strung them together with twine! She could feel them moving beneath her touch. Only, now that she thought about it, wooden bones and string weren’t supposed to move like that, and even the softest leather from the youngest calves wasn’t that soft. It felt like her own skin did, like her own hand.

She tucked her cloak tight about her arms in an attempt to fight off the chill that ran across her flesh. She was simply letting her imagination get away with her. That was it. The thing under the blanket was just a doll. An odd life sized doll, but a doll nonetheless. She would uncover it and she would see that her fears were unfounded.

She took a breath to steady herself and pulled the blanket away.

She was wrong: it wasn’t a doll, but the body of a dead woman lying on the table.

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