Story A Day May: Dollmaker

The Prompt

People called him The Doll Maker. Nobody ever wondered aloud why every doll had the same face.

The Tale

She was called Christina. Flowing jet black hair, sparkling amber eyes and skin the color of polished ebony. She stood with one hip cocked to the side, dressed in a loose white shirt with a blue floral pattern on it and dark jeans. One manicured hand rested on her hip, the other bent in front of her, a gold chained purse dangling from the crook of her elbow.

Christina was one of several, lining a small shelf in Anton’s studio. Anton had molded her out of clay, just like the others she shared the shelf with. Countless hours had been devoted to refining every feature, giving her eyes just the right shape, her lips the right fullness. Anton agonized over the paint, making sure to pick just the right shades and tones to really bring her to life.

Anton had been making dolls for over a decade, and was a minor celebrity in his town. Fans and admirers just called him The Doll Maker; he doubted many of them even knew his real name. He was beloved for his lifelike clay figurines, each one so different from the one that preceded it. Except, that wasn’t really the case.

Under all the layers of detail, the meticulously tailored clothing and the finely crafted accessories, each doll had the exact same face. The same heart shape, large oval-shaped eyes, upturned nose and pillowy lips. Complexions and hairstyles varied, as did the outfits. He would sculpt a pale blonde in a flowing dress one day and a tanned redhead in a tank top and cargos on another. Yet they would look eerily alike, like an actress dressing up for different roles.

Everyone knew the dolls looked the same, but nobody questioned it. Perhaps that was the limit of Anton’s ability, or maybe he just liked how the face looked. It wasn’t a big concern. The dolls were still beautiful and lifelike, and people were always fascinated to see a new one in the window of Anton’s studio.

All of the dolls were for sale and were purchased by children and adults alike. Christina would soon be put on display to be admired and eventually sold. Anton just had to apply a few finishing touches. She was placed into a small wooden box, which he tucked under his arm.

He flipped the ‘Closed’ sign on his studio door, locked it and went into the backroom. Anton kept most of his supplies there. The room was overflowing with shelves of fabrics, fake hair and paint. Behind one row of shelves, there was a hatch built into the floor. Anton lifted it to reveal a stone staircase leading down to a darkened cellar.

He lit the sconces placed along the walls, illuminating the small room. It was empty, except for a large framed picture hanging one the far wall with a makeshift altar set up under it. Anton placed the box on the altar and took Christina out, resting her on both palms, his arms stretched toward the portrait on the wall.

It was the portrait of a woman, done in hues of gold and rust and bone. She had a look of defiance in her large oval eyes, nostrils flared. Her lips were full, but pressed tightly together. She was the spitting image of Christina and every doll in Anton’s workshop and in the homes of several inhabitants of the neighborhood.

Anton closed his eyes and chanted under his breath. He opened them again and looked at the woman, who floated out of the painting, growing smaller as she approached his hands. She stood on his fingertips, the same size as Christina, then lay down on top of the doll and was absorbed into the clay. Anton uttered another chant. When he looked up, the woman was staring down at him, as she always did.

He put Christina back in the box, blew out the flickering flames in the sconces and made his way back up the stairs. Christina would be placed on the shelf by the window, where she was bound to attract someone’s fancy the next day. Another gushing admirer and another satisfied customer. Anton would write the buyer’s name down in the special notebook he kept under the counter to keep track of his customers.

Only two more dolls had to be sold to complete the pact and grant her passage to the mortal realm. The fragments of her essence that rested inside the dolls would drain the life of the doll owners, transferring it all to her and making her whole again. And Anton would be ready to welcome her, a humble servant and dedicated worshiper.

He smiled and picked up a lump of clay, molding it to form a heart-shaped face.

Story A Day May: With Friends Like This…

It’s hard to believe April’s behind us already, along with the A to Z Challenge! It was my second year participating, and I’m happy that I actually managed to stay on schedule this year (except for one minor delay).

And, because I’m a glutton for puni…err..thoroughly passionate writer, I’ve also signed up for Story A Day May. So without further ado, let’s launch in to the first tale:

The Prompt

You attend the funeral of an old friend.
Afterwards, in the mail you receive a postcard. It’s from the friend, and it reads “I’m not dead. Meet me Tuesday night at 8 at ____________.” And signed by him/her.
First make a list of possibilities for how this could be the case.
Begin your story with, or after, the arrival of the postcard.

The Tale

David Fairweather and I had been friends since high school. We sat together at lunch. We laughed at jokes nobody understood. We went on a double date on prom night. And somehow, despite the distance that separated us during our crazy college years, we managed to stay in touch. I was there at his wedding to congratulate him. And just two days ago, I was there at his funeral to console his widow.

So when a postcard arrived this morning with David’s signature on it, I was surprised to say the least. Though not as surprised as when I read it.

“I’m not dead. Meet me Tuesday night at 8 at Lonnie’s.”

I spun the postcard in my hands over and over, my fingers tracing its sharp corners as my mind tried to make sense of it all.

David Fairweather was dead. I read a goddamn eulogy at his funeral.

Was it some sort of prank? A sick joke perpetrated by…I couldn’t even imagine who would be that twisted. I looked down at the postcard again. It was definitely David’s handwriting. I’d recognize that looping script anywhere. I’d seen it on so many postcards he’d sent from his trips. David loved to travel and, even more than that, he loved to document his travels.

The last postcard he sent me was from somewhere in Nepal. He was trekking in the mountains and visited a monastery. Went on about some mystic mumbo jumbo. He always did love his tall tales. David just got back from Nepal a week ago, and then…the accident. The one that sent him to his next grim destination.

Seemed only fitting he’d send a postcard from beyond the grave. Except the grave was empty, apparently.

Who the hell did we bury then?

It was a closed casket funeral because of the horrific injuries David had suffered in the accident. It hurt so much to say goodbye to my old friend without getting to see him for one last time. Was that all a ruse? A carefully orchestrated fake funeral? Why?

There was only one way I was going to get any answers.

On Tuesday, I went straight home after work. I put on a heavy overcoat, thankful that the weather was still brisk, and paired that with a scarf and the biggest pair of sunglasses I could find. I hoped it would be enough for David, or whoever wrote the postcard, not to recognize me right away.

At 7:45, I was sitting at the bar counter with a beer in hand. I took a couple of small sips as I looked around. No familiar faces. No one that looked suspicious. Though in this case, I had no idea what ‘suspicious’ would even look like.

At 8:05, I was already getting antsy, my beer half-drained. Most of the people in the bar were with friends. There were a few loners, but it didn’t look like they were waiting for anyone. No sign of David at all.

By 8:20, I was convinced it had just been a very bad joke. Some bored jackass mocking a grieving man. I pulled out the postcard from my pocket. The handwriting. Would someone really go to the trouble of replicating it so precisely just for a laugh?

“I wasn’t sure you’d come.”

The voice sent a jolt up my spine, almost causing the card to slip out of my fingers.

David was sitting on the stool next to me. Not somebody that looked like him. Not a guy with a bad makeup job or a mask. David. Looking very much not dead. I had no idea how to react to that, no idea what to say. There were so many questions running through my mind, begging to be asked.

“What the hell, Dave?”

That was a start.

He motioned to the bartender, then turned back to me with a grin.

“You’re probably gonna need a few more drinks. What I’m about to tell you can…get a little weird.”

“Weirder than me talking to my friend days after his funeral?”

He laughed. “Fair enough.”

“I – I don’t understand, Dave. What’s going on? How are you alive? Are you alive? Am I going crazy? Talk to me, man.”

The questions came pouring out of me as the relief over seeing Dave alive evaporated and was replaced by a cocktail of worry, fear and curiosity.

“Whoa!” he held his hands out.” Easy there, bud. All of your questions will be answered in time.”

He picked up the beer that the bartender plonked down in front of him and took a long sip.

“You remember the monks I told you about in Nepal? Did you know they’ve been over there since the 5th century?”

I scratched my nose, more confused than ever. “Okay…so you went to some really old monastery. What does that have to do with – ”

“No, no. Not the monastery. The monks. Those monks, the ones I met. They’re the really old ones.”

I must have misheard him. “What?”

“The monks that I met in Nepal,” he repeated, as if explaining it to a child, “have been around since the 5th century.”

It started clicking into place. It still didn’t make any sense, and I could feel more questions trying to push their way past my lips. I gestured to the bartender.

“You’re right. I’m gonna need several more drinks.”

#AtoZChallenge: Walled In

Where’s my cellphone?

That’s the first question that pops into my mind when I wake up.

I fumble around in the darkness, feeling what seems to be smooth stone under my hands. It’s cold.

Where am I?

I figured that would come up sooner or later. The room doesn’t feel cramped. If it is a room, that is. The darkness makes it feel much smaller, though, as if I could reach out and find the walls closing in.

But how did I even get here? And where is here anyway?

Could be a jail cell, though I don’t think I was arrested. I feel like I’d remember if I were a felon.

Was I kidnapped?

That’s a possibility, though I can’t think of why. Maybe I’m famous, a celebrity or tycoon. Maybe someone I know wanted to ransom me. It’s honestly a bit hard to keep my thoughts straight. It’s so dark. Not even a sliver of light from a doorway. There must be a doorway. I couldn’t have just materialized in this room.

Just how big is this place anyway?

I extend my arms to the side as much as I can and feel nothing but air. I pick a direction and walk toward it until my hand bumps against a wall. Good, we’re making progress. Slowly but surely. The wall feels solid, but it has a little give to it. Like soft wood.

Is there a door around here?

I start walking parallel to the wall, keeping my hand on it. Let’s see how far this thing goes. After about 60 paces, I hit a corner. Great. Now we’re getting somewhere. I turn 90 degrees and follow the next wall. This time, it’s about 40 paces till the corner. Okay, so it’s a rectangle. Another wall, and 100 paces this time. Seems I was pretty much in the middle of the room. I trace a path along the fourth wall, and then cover the length of the first one. Still no door.

How did I get in? And how the hell do I get out?

Weird. I push against the wall again, which has a rough, pebbly texture. But it’s not stone. I give it another push, stronger this time, and I hear a scraping sound.

What the hell?

I think I just moved the wall. I push it again. Another scrape. I give it one more push before my arms give out. I have no idea what I’m doing. There still isn’t any light or any other sound or anything. It’s just me and this bizarre room. I want to scream, but I have no idea if anyone will –

The hell was that?

I just heard a voice. I’m sure of it. I strain my ears. Nothing. I’m starting to hear things. That can’t be good. I – okay, that was definitely a voice. It gets louder. Really loud. It sounds like a woman. I start yelling to get her attention. I hope she can hear me. Then the floor starts to vibrate.

An earthquake?

I plant my feet firmly on the floor, bracing for the worst as the floor vibrations get more intense. Then the light almost blinds me.

Am I dead? Is this Heaven? Or..?

“Look, honey! We got one!”

I look around, my eyes adjusting to the light. There’s a small rectangular hole above me, in the ceiling of the room. It’s enough for me to get a sense of my surroundings. I’m in a house. A very big house. And I don’t mean a mansion. I mean just…big. There’s a woman standing over me. She might be thirty feet tall. Or forty. It doesn’t really matter.

“Ha!” she says. “And you thought they weren’t real! I told you there’s little people living in our house! See?”

She pointed down to my cell. A large man joined her.

“Well, what do you know, Wendy. Guess it’s true.”

He leaned forward and peered into my cell.

“Hey there, little guy. Now what are we gonna do with you?”

It’s coming back to me now. The bar last night where I met that strange man. His crazy story about magic beans, fairy tale nonsense. Getting near blackout drunk. I think we planted the beans somewhere. I climbed up into the clouds. There was the big house, with the huge kitchen. The mousetrap that had some food in it. I was hungry.

But the man. Where did he go? Did he just leave me here?

The man picks up my prison and carries me into a back room. There’s a faint buzzing sound from somewhere around me. There’s a small black object on the floor of the trap.

Well, I guess I found my cellphone.

 

 

#AtoZChallenge: Village of Villainy

The village of Bösedorf lies nestled somewhere near the Vogelsberg mountains, hidden away from most folk. It is often referred to as the Village of Villainy.

You might wonder why, and that would be a perfectly valid question to ask. Though really, if you think about it, the answer lies right in the name.

The Village of Villainy is a village full of villains. Hence the name Village of Villainy.

Thieves, highway robbers, cut-throats, swindlers and misers inhabit this sorry hovel of a village. They spend their days plotting their next heinous acts, and their nights in drunken revelry and debauchery. Oh, so much debauchery. I could spin a tale just out of that, but it would be inappropriate for most readers except those of a particularly saucy disposition.

But enough about the debauchery.

Many rumors and legends abound about the founding of Bosedorf. Some claim that the notorious robber baron Heinrich Heinrich had fled his homeland and created the village as a haven for vile fiends and rogues. Other believed that an ancient order of monks had founded Bosedorf to aid mankind but that their plans had gone horrendously awry when one of their own made a pact with dark forces and cast a shadow over the whole village. A more mundane theory suggested that escaped prisoners had settled there to hide out from the law and ended up forming a community over time. It’s the more likely explanation, but people usually go with the monk story.

Now in fairness I must admit that Bosedorf is not a bad place to pass through, provided you don’t have too many valuables on your person. The roguish sort do know how to have a good time, after all, and they know their way around an alehouse. But try not to stay there too long, or you may find yourself missing a few items, such as clothes or money or limbs. But if you can ignore the potential for destitution and doom, Bosedorf is not too bad a place at all.

 

#AtoZChallenge: Untitled

Uther The Bold.

Unther The Dashing.

Ungular The Narcoleptic.

Urden looked at the plaques under her ancestors’ portraits and sighed. They all held great titles and were known throughout the kingdom for their mighty feats. At the end of the hall was a space for her portrait and an empty plaque. One day, it would read ‘Urden’. But what would follow her name? What would be her title and legacy? She had not achieved anything worthy of a title so far in her life, and she had no idea where to even begin.

Her father, Ulasfur The Firestarter, was legendary for his bomb making skills, which he used to defeat invaders and, well, anyone that upset him.

Her mother, Undilien The Hammerer, inspired awe and fear with her feats of strength, most of which involved using her fists like hammers and the heads of her enemies like nails.

Her brother, Urdar The Knife Eater, built his reputation on a most bizarre appetite.

And then there was Urden. Just Urden. She was not extraordinarily strong or skilled with weapons. She certainly didn’t like the taste of knives.

All she had was her imagination, dreaming up impressive acts that she might one day perform, such as defeating the Five-Mouthed Narglebeast or conquering distant kingdoms.

As she pondered her future and the name that would one day be inscribed on her plaque, she put her imagined feats to parchment, penning fantastical chronicles of a mighty warrior. She didn’t want anyone to know she was writing about herself, so she made up a name for the heroine of her story: Ularda Toothsmasher. That sounded good.

She would sometimes read aloud from her stories, giving voice to Ularda’s many exploits. One day, her father’s cup bearer overheard part of the story, where Ularda was fighting the Narglebeast with her bare hands, and mistook it for truth. He then told the story to her mother’s armor polisher, who told some of her friends. Thus did the tales of Ularda spread, causing quite a stir throughout the kingdom as everyone pondered over this fearsome warrior they had only just heard of.

Urdar would talk about her at length, of how he would one day like to meet her and impress by devouring an entire battleaxe. Ulasfur wondered if she would be interested in adding some bombs to her arsenal, and Undilien vowed to fight alongside her to the death. Urden remained silent during these discussions. She neither praised nor condemned this mysterious new warrior.

Cults were built around Ularda, fanatics praising her name and trying to divine every minute aspect of her life. Where she was born, where she grew up, who her family was, if she had any suitors. Urden’s little tale had gotten out of control.

She could keep it a secret no longer. Urden confessed to creating Ularda and her stories. Her parent didn’t believe her at first, but she showed them the parchments and the little portraits she had made. Once the truth was out, she expected the worst.

Much to her astonishment, there was no punishment. Rather, people were amazed at her storytelling skill and asked that she tell them more tales about Ularda Toothsmasher. Urden was more than happy to oblige.

She wrote many more stories about the fearsome warrior and, over time, wrote about many others as well. Wizards and mages, proud orc chiefs and conniving goblin shamans. The kingdom was enraptured by her fanciful tales.

At last the time came to add Urden’s portrait to that of her ancestral line. There was only one title that seemed fitting:

Urden The Author.

#AtoZChallenge: Sweetest Sound

Sonmore High School was quiet at midday, quieter than it had ever been.

Most of the students were in class.

A small group was hiding under the bleachers out by the football field. One of them had a packet of cigarettes, stolen from his mother.

A couple of young lovebirds had snuck into one of the supply closets to fool around.

Ms. Tanner was writing out an equation on the board. Her chalk slid along the slate surface without making a sound. Her students looked at each other in confusion.

Mr. Patrick’s class had been giggling about his odd haircut mere moments ago. Their grins turned to shocked stares as their voices died in their throats.

Stacy Hicks had been reading aloud from MacBeth in English class. She continued sounding out the words, looking around the room for any signs that the others heard her, growing more frantic as she saw the fear on their faces.

The boy by the football field dropped his cigarettes when he could no longer hear his friends joking amongst each other.

The couple in the supply closet screamed when their loving moans died away, but nobody heard them.

Not a sound was heard anywhere in the school. No talking. No yelling. No laughter. No droning lectures. No footsteps. No heartbeats.

Ms. Sybil walked into the library with a smile on her face. Silence at last. Just the way she liked it.

#AtoZChallenge: Quantum Dislocation, or The Assassin Who Brought No Spare Pants

Quentin was stuck and couldn’t see any way out. When he had woken up that morning to the chiming melody of his holo-alarm, he couldn’t possibly have guessed that mere hours later, he’d be sinking in quicksand. Yet there he was. Life could be funny sometimes. Not funny like a good joke, but you get the point.

He was sinking fast and had not time for a flashback, but Quentin would be damned if he didn’t get some exposition in before dying.

Quentin Fiddleswitch was what they called a ‘ghost’. Not in the sense that he was dead, but more in the sense that he could phase between dimensions at will. He could, for example, exit the dimension of this story and enter the world where you’re sitting at your computer reading this. Or at least, he could if he still had his phase disruptor with him. Alas, he did not. All he had was a very sinking feeling and an aversion to bad puns.

I should also probably mention that he was an assassin. That’s important for the next part of the story.

Quentin had been hired by The Organization (a secret society so secretive that they didn’t even have a real name) to eliminate a high-ranking government official, because who would bother paying him for one of the low-ranking officials? Or an intern? Could you imagine a man such as Quentin Fiddleswitch being hired to kill an intern? Hardly.

The official was a member of the Council for Inter-Dimensional Regulation and Safety Against Interlopers From Other Dimensions, which, aside from being a terribly impractical name, also meant bad news for Quentin and his ilk. So he set out on his task, gathering intel on his target and working out the best way to kill him and make it look like an accident. When you’re a shadowy and ominous group like The Organization, it seems you would just kill people and not worry about your PR, but they were very finicky about hiding their involvement in these things. It didn’t really matter to Quentin as long as he got paid.

At last he had the perfect plan. The official was going on a jungle expedition in a parallel universe. Some sort of inter-dimensional political maneuver, but basically a paid vacation and photo-op. Quentin knew exactly what he had to do. It involved an irate crocodile (though on further examination, he was certain it was an alligator), a poison dart, two cans of whipped cream and a pit of quicksand. It was inspired. A true work of art. A plan so ingenious that it would be pointless to explain it as you lot wouldn’t comprehend its sublime intricacies anyway.

No offense to you.

But it was a good plan.

However, as you’ve probably figured out from reading the introductory paragraph, things did not go to plan. Of course you did. I never doubted your intelligence for a second.

Through a series of rather improbable and frankly ludicrous events, Quentin ended up accidentally phasing into his own trap. The alligator ran off with his disruptor belt, the official escaped unharmed (and with several lovely pictures of his expedition to have as keepsakes or to share with strangers on the webbosphere) and all Quentin had left was a half empty can of whipped cream. It was of no use to him at all, so he threw it away.

He was struggling to escape and regretting the little detour into the past. Instead of narrating previous events, I could have been talking about how he got out of his perilous situation. But then how would you have caught up on what’s happened? It’s not like there’s a pamphlet accompanying this story or anything.

As he sank another inch, Quentin realized there was only one way out of this. He needed a deus ex machina. An author-devised solution that would save him from the most impossible odds. Fortunately, he had one. An improbable series of events that led to Quentin being pulled out of the quicksand by the very same alligator that had put him there. Call it irony, providence or contrived drivel, it did the trick. Quentin was out. Unfortunately, he was also naked and watched the collar of his shirt disappeared into the pit with a sorry gloop.

After a grueling gator-wrestling session, Quentin retrieved his phase disruptor belt. Since he had failed in his mission, he needed to get away and lay low for a while. The governments of several dimensions would be displeased about the attempted assassination and The Organization didn’t forgive failure. Though honestly, it wouldn’t be much of an evil society if it did.

So Quentin strapped on his belt and piloted a course for the one dimension where he could be safe for a while. I can’t really tell you where he went,of course, but it’s a place where The Organization’s influence doesn’t extend. Not yet, anyway, but that would be a story for another time.

So that’s it then, the tale of Quentin Fiddleswitch and his failed assassination attempt. You can move along and get back to your daily lives. Writing biographies or shopping for new hats or whatever it is people do in their spare time. And if you happen to see a naked little man wearing a strange belt run past, don’t be alarmed.

Just find him some pants.