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.

#AtoZChallenge: Outsider

Olive Orkin never fit in with the other children. As she grew up, she never fit in with other adults much, either. She was forever the outsider, watching others huddle into close-knit groups while she hung around by herself. In her family, she was the odd duck, the one who stood out from the rest.

Even her uncle Bainbridge, the black sheep of the Orkin house who had tarnished the family name several times over through acts that none of her relatives dared discuss in the open, fit in better than she did. Such was her lot in life.

Most people worried that others would speak about them behind their backs, but that was never a problem for Olive. They spoke about her when she was right there, though to them she seemed invisible.

Olive was getting ready for her first day at a new job, and she was not looking forward to it. She knew the routine. People would remark on her newness and how she would soon be part of the group, yet within minutes, an unseen wall would crop up between them, cutting Olive off from the rest of her co-workers. She had been bumping into that wall her whole life with no hope of climbing over it.

After getting off the bus, which stopped a ten-minute walk away from her office, Olive trudged her way to the gleaming building and in past the sprightly receptionist who would likely forget about her within the week, if not sooner.

There the usual hellos and welcomes. She was given a quick tour by the office manager, Alice. She was shown the break room, the copy room and two meeting rooms. Finally, she was shown to her desk and assigned her tasks for the day. She buried herself in her work and tried not to worry about anything else.

People walked by her desk throughout the morning, often in pairs or small groups. Whenever she got up, she was alone. But she was used to it. She had been expecting it.

At lunchtime, a few people went to the break room. Some would head to the cafeteria on one of the lower floors, and one small group took over one of the conference room, bags of takeout in hand. Olive decided the break room would be the easiest option.

Alice was there, along with Delia, one of the accountants, and another new girl whose name Olive didn’t quite catch; she had started work the week before. The three of them had their backs to Olive, paying her no mind. It was just was well for her. She shrugged and started walking to the mini fridge, but never made it all the way to the fridge door.

Alice, who still hadn’t seen Olive come in, took the new girl’s hand in her own and pulled it toward her mouth. Olive’s cheeks reddened. She hadn’t expected to walk in on something so intimate, and certainly not in the middle of the day. Were public displays of affection a regular thing around the office? Just another awkward social wave that she’d have to surf? She thought it best to just enjoy her lunch in peace and worry about that later.

The new girl didn’t move or make a sound. She wasn’t even looking in Alice’s direction. She was staring at the wall. That seemed odd to Olive, but then, if her manager suddenly decided to get cozy at work, she might do the same. Delia just sat and smiled. Alice leaned in, as if she were about to kiss the girl’s hand. But that’s not what she did.

Alice bit down on the girl’s hand, just between the thumb and forefinger; Olive saw two little streams of blood flow out, then retreat under Alice’s lips. That’s not very romantic, Olive thought, her mind still catching up to the situation. As Alice was feeding off that hand, Delia took the other and did the same thing. Olive stood transfixed. Minutes later, both of them let go of the girl, who still hadn’t moved.

Delia’s head whipped around, followed by Alice; they both fixed Olive with a steady, calm gaze. Olive looked from one to the other. She wasn’t really sure how to react to this revelation so she gave them an awkward smile, her lips parting just enough for her fangs to catch the light. They smiled back and offered her a seat at the table.

Olive sat down, feeling in much better spirits than at the start of the day. Maybe she wouldn’t be an outsider after all. In fact, she thought, as she examined the twin bruises blossoming on the new girl’s hand, she would fit in just fine.

#AtoZChallenge: Beastly

 

‘Beastly’ Beatriz. That’s what all the kids called her. Other girls might have thought it cruel or hurtful, but not Beatriz Villalobos. For her, it was a mark of respect. And she loved it.

Beatriz grew up in the slums known as Basurero, under the shadow of violence and fear. The streets were controlled by Los Reyes, a gang of neighborhood thugs who got off on intimidating others. Beatriz and her mother kept their heads down, trying to go about their business without attracting attention. But attention found Beatriz anyway.

Eduardo, the leader of Los Reyes, was only seventeen, but his swagger and his scars added years to his lean frame. He had noticed Beatriz, nine years old and prone to looking at her feet as she walked past him. One day, he got up in her face about it. Weak kids were easy prey. Beatriz was afraid. Eduardo was bigger than her and stronger than her. He had her backed into a corner. She didn’t like that.

Beatriz ran home in tears, shaken by the confrontation. Her mother tried to console her, but Beatriz didn’t want comfort. She wanted to fight back. To be tough. She went to speak with abuela.

Abuela was Beatriz’s name for the old woman who lived a few doors down from her, because she reminded Beatriz of her grandmother. Beatriz told abuela about her confrontation with Eduardo and how she hated to be afraid. Abuela listened to her tale and closed her eyes, deep in thought.

“I can help you, mija,” she said, after Beatriz was done. “I can help you become stronger, braver. You need not be afraid ever again.”

Beatriz was intrigued.

“But fear is a part of you, Beatriz. It makes you the person that you are. If you remove the fear, you will no longer be the same. It will change you.”

It didn’t matter to Beatriz. She wanted to be different. It was better than being afraid. Abuela urged Beatriz to think it over again and went to make some tea. She returned with an unusual tea cup, like nothing Beatriz had seen before. It was made of bone, and the handle was carved into the shape of an animal. It looked like a wolf, Beatriz thought, but no wolf that existed in this world.

“Drink this,” abuela said, “And your fear will be gone.”

Beatriz did as she was told, drinking the hot tea in a few short gulps. Her tongue burned and she could feel fire flowing through her insides. But she didn’t feel very different.

As Beatriz was leaving abuela‘s house, she spotted Eduardo out on the street. He saw her and called her down. Beatriz shook her head and kept walking. Eduardo called out to her again but this time, there was something in his voice that made her obey. She walked downstairs slowly, feeling her heart thud with each step. Eduardo met her at the bottom of the steps, then grabbed her by the shoulders and pinned her against the railing.

“Hey there, little Bee,” he said, reeking of cheap beer and expensive cologne. “where you off to in such a hurry? I just wanna talk.”

Fear swirled inside Beatriz, filling her belly and her lungs. She wanted Eduardo to let her go. She wanted him to leave her alone forever. The fear began to pulsate. She could feel it throbbing in her veins. And then that fear changed into something else. Something darker. Beatriz looked the boy in the eye, even though he towered over her. She stood her ground. And she fought back.

Nobody spoke of exactly what happened that day. Stories began to circulate around the neighborhood. Some said that Beatriz broke Eduardo’s nose, or that she punched his face into a bloody pulp. They said Eduardo was too ashamed to leave the house. But in the safety of their homes, they all told a different story, of how the little girl had transformed into something else. Something not of this world. And that this beastly child had banished Eduardo to the depths of hell. Or worse. In the end, stories were all that remained of Eduardo. He was never seen again.

Beatriz walked the neighborhood with her head held high after that. But that wasn’t all. She felt different. Powerful. Dangerous. Over the years, Beatriz took Eduardo’s place as the ruler of the neighborhood and kept it in order. Nobody dared cross her.

Once in a while, though, someone would step out of line. Someone would be foolish enough to believe that they could steal from the neighborhood or attack the defenseless. Someone would try to hurt those that Beatriz held dear.

And when that happened, Beatriz confronted them. She channeled the swirling darkness inside of her. And she showed them just how she had earned the name ‘Beastly’ Beatriz.

 

WEP February Challenge: Heart’s Desire

A new year of challenges hosted by the wonderful Yolanda and Renee of Write, Edit, Publish! The first theme of the year: Back of the Drawer.

As the name suggests, the prompt is all about what a character finds at the back of a drawer. Love? Riches? Horror? Who can say?

Presented for your reading pleasure, here’s the tale of a thief called Len, who once stole the biggest prize of all: the love of his life.


 

“Whatever you do, don’t open the top drawer.”

Mal had been very insistent about that. The top drawer was to remain untouched. She wouldn’t say why, and Len knew better than to badger her for answers. She kissed him before he left, holding her lips to his a second longer than usual. If she said to leave that drawer alone, he’d damn well leave it alone.

It was a simple job: break into Mal’s old apartment and retrieve a few items from her bureau. Dob, her drunken pig of an ex-husband and former partner, would probably be out with his floozy of the week, so there was little chance of running into him. Of course, he’d probably have a few people posted around the roofs and balconies, just in case. Still, it was no big deal for Len; getting past security was his specialty. Some reconnaissance, a little sneaking around rooftops and a couple of chokeholds took care of Dob’s crew. No sweat. All he had to do was hop onto an adjacent balcony to get to Mal’s building, then find the right window. But before he could jump, there were footsteps. He’d missed one. The guard emerged from the stairwell to find his partner knocked out and Len standing at the edge of the roof.

The guard pulled out a gun. Len broke off part of an antenna. A bullet shot through the air, missing Len’s neck by inches as he twisted and dove to the ground, flinging the antenna piece. It hit the guard square between the eyes, knocking him off balance. A running jump, a flying kick, some punches, some blocks and one karate chop (not necessary, but fun). It was over. All clear. Len hopped over to the next building and found his window.

Breaking into the actual apartment would be a lot easier. Dob was paranoid but sloppy: his locks and latches didn’t put up much resistance against Len’s deft fingers. He opened the window as quietly as he could and slipped inside. Len was standing in Mal’s study, which Dob had converted into some sort of gaudy trophy room. Many of Mal’s things were untouched, though, including her bureau, pressed up against one corner of the room. Len went over to it and unlocked the drawers. All except the top one, just as instructed. He took out some papers, all stapled together. There were also some folders, Old photographs. One very particular photograph that Mal definitely wouldn’t want Dob to keep. A journal. And her favorite knife, thin curved blade and an intricately carved bone hilt. Her name had been engraved on it, in a language that many had forgotten. That was all. Job done.

As he was getting up, a voice in the back of his mind asked why Mal had told him to leave the top drawer. What was the big secret, and why did she want it to stay with Dob? It didn’t matter. None of Len’s business. He would take Mal’s things back to her and then they could start their new life together. Simple as that.

The voice wouldn’t let up, though. What was the deal with that drawer? Len grunted impatiently and looked at it, really looked for the first time. It was different from the other drawers. Same faded green wood, but an elaborate golden border. Even the knob was different, molded to look like the head of some weird animal. Len could feel the hairs standing on the back of his neck, like they were trying to pull him away. Whatever was in that drawer was bad news, that much he could tell.

But what if he just got a peek? He wouldn’t take what was in there. Just look and lock it up again. Dob wouldn’t know. Neither would Mal. The job was still done and Len would still get paid. What was the big deal? He was standing over the desk, thumb tapping a frantic rhythm on its weathered surface. Just one peek. For curiosity’s sake. Len smiled. Curiosity. It killed cats. But Len was no cat.

He put his tools to work, picking at the lock of the top drawer, but nothing happened. He couldn’t get the damn thing to open. He couldn’t find a latch or a bolt or a way to make that lock go click under his fingers. A voice in his head again, but a different one. A woman’s voice. Soft. Sultry. Soothing. And click. The drawer was unlocked. Len was surprised, but relieved. One little peek. That’s all he wanted. He grabbed the drawer handle. It felt so warm in that cold, cold room. Like it was alive. Len hesitated. And then he pulled. The drawer slid open with a groan. Len peered into it, holding his breath, then letting it all out in one little whoosh. Empty. The drawer was empty.

Len laughed. Mal had made an ass out of him. All that spooky junk about locked drawers and it was empty. He was about to close it when he saw a shadow near the back. There was something there. The drawer wouldn’t open any further. Len craned his neck to get a better look but he couldn’t see anything except shadows. He reached inside and felt around. Felt something small, squishy. It was a heart. Mal’s heart. It glowed bright red, pulsating slowly under his palm. Somewhere across town, Len knew Mal felt her chest tighten. Why was she leaving her heart with Dob? She hated the bastard. Unless she didn’t.

Len closed the drawer and locked it again. He could still feel its pulsing rhythm along his hand. So that was it. Mal belonged to him now, mind, body and soul. But he knew where her heart truly lay. Len climbed back out the window and made his way to his car. He wished he’d never opened that damn drawer.

Word Count: 986