The child I loved hung me on the wall and didn’t look back. Doors slammed and the house settled into endless night. Then one day the handle twisted and rattled, and the door slowly creaked open. Footsteps crept on the dusty floorboards. A dark shadow moved around the room. We were terrified at first; was it a ghost? The house had been deserted for one week or maybe one hundred years; I never understood human time. In any case, it felt like an eternity since we had seen a child, an eternity of loneliness and silence and never being touched.
The dark shadow moved to the window and pulled back the tattered curtains. A burst of sunlight flooded the room.
It was a pretty thing with long blonde braids dressed in strange boyish attire. She stared around the room, amazed by the collection of old toys in the attic. I know how precious the first few moments between a toy and a child are. I had to be the first one to catch her eye if I had any chance of getting out of there, any chance of ever dancing again.
I focused all of my energy on her. She looked up and saw me, hanging gracelessly, head flopped to the side, my pretty dress brown with age. I sent her a vision of my lace skirts twirling as I danced in a beam of light. I was a professional once, working the stage before adoring crowds. Agile and masterful hands directed my strings, maneuvered me perfectly. Those hands understood me and filled me with life although they also filled me with dread.
I made the little girl imagine she held my strings as I dipped and hopped. She smiled up at me. To bring her closer, to make her reach up and touch me…
The girl took a step forward before a harsh voice echoed from downstairs.
“Amelia! Amelia, where are you?”
She froze in fear then quickly left the room closing the door carefully behind her.
The commotion downstairs went on for days as the new family moved in. The toys in the attic grew restless and excited. We would be discovered again. Maybe some of us would be taken into a colourful playroom, we thought. Maybe we would have picnics in the garden or be taken down to the seashore once more. I waited patiently and a strange sensation grew in me. I realised it was hope. I kept calling her name and I knew Amelia would return.
I love the sea. The circling gulls, the fierce wind, the crash of the waves. The sea is nearby the house and the little girl who owned me before used to take me there all the time. I should have used her when I had the chance; after all her sweet talk and tea parties she left me to rot when she moved away.
She would sit me in the sand and I would stare unblinking into the sun as she built sandcastles. I longed to walk and explore, not manipulated by strings but by my own free will.
I remember my master, he who made me, but I try not to think of him. He was a possessive and neurotic man who made me work for hours on end until I grew dizzy and faint. The curtains would finally draw closed, the cheering of children ringing in my ears as I collapsed in an exhausted heap. Day after day, often twice a day, I danced. I was locked up in a velvet-lined box and taken out only for performances. But it is thanks to him that I have the power I do; when he passed away I inherited his magic. On his deathbed, he clutched me in fear and sadness; coarse fingers traced the cold curves of my porcelain face, tears in his blind eyes. Then with shaking hands, he pushed me back into my box. I heard the lock click and I was terrified, believing I would never be taken out again.
Eventually, after lifetimes of darkness, the box was opened. The little girl who carefully lifted me out had my master’s eyes. His blood flowed through her veins, I could tell. Her little fingers had the same talent and she knew how to work my strings beautifully. I danced again but not without bitterness in my heart. Then she too betrayed me, left me hanging in the attic and disappeared, and I felt my plush stuffing turn to cruel cold stone.
Amelia crept into the attic late one night, not long after our first meeting. Balancing on an old chair, she carefully unhooked me from the wall. She carried me down to her bedroom where she sat me proudly on her dresser.
She got back under her covers and gazed at me in wonder. My dainty red painted lips smiled at her, my black glass eyes twinkled in the night. I blinked at her with long stiff lashes. I was so elated she had come to collect me. The magic was working. We gazed at each other until her eyes slowly closed and she drifted off to sleep.
I met her in her dreams. It was snowing there, perfect snowflakes drifted around us. We held hands and giggled as we spun in circles. For a moment, we couldn’t tell which one of us was the doll and which was the little girl. That made us laugh hysterically and we spun faster and faster until we tumbled in the snow.
After that, we spent every day together; she took me everywhere. She carried me around carefully so as not to tangle my strings, and she never put me in a box. Her feelings for me grew, forming that mysterious bond between child and toy. And so did my power, for it was the bond that fueled my magic. Nothing is more powerful than the genuine and pure love of a child, and she gave it to me willingly.
I always had pride of place on her dresser, glaring down at the plain and ugly toys that littered her bedroom floor. Dreadful tawdry things. I am one of a kind, handcrafted with a ceramic head, hands and feet; my soft torso is made of quality cotton, my features beautifully painted.
For weeks, I sat and watched her sleep, entering her dream world where we played together for hours. Nothing separated us. Little by little, her energy was becoming mine.
In her dreams, I showed her what to do, how to become limp and lifeless; empty. Soon it was I who danced, free and exhilarated, while she slumped in a dark corner, her eyes wide and blank. In the morning, she woke terrified, feeling drained without knowing why.
All night long, I chanted the spell that lulled her spirit into my form. I was coming to life. I began to feel a tingle in my toes and fingertips, a whirling in my belly.
Amelia grew more weak and frail. She dozed in bed most of the time so I could enter her mind and dance there during the day as well. But her parents were getting worried and began to interfere. They took her to visit the doctor; they took her out to do things, leaving me behind. They kept stuffing her with food hoping it would regain her strength. I had to work faster; they were getting too meddlesome.
I put one final image in Amelia’s mind – a gentle ocean, the sky an innocent baby blue, a stretch of golden sand. The next morning she told her mother she felt much better and was going for a walk down to the beach.
Amelia propped me in the hot sand. It was a perfect sunny day. I watched as she applied greasy sunscreen to her thin legs. To be honest, and to my surprise, I felt a little sad. A pang of bitterness and loneliness overcame me. Will anyone ever love me and take care of me forever, never to leave me behind, used and forgotten? The bright glare of the sun was hurting my eyes and the sand tickled my skin; my senses had awakened, and it was too late to turn back.
Amelia hummed to herself; she seemed almost content but I could sense her anxiety. The past few weeks had confused and frightened her; she knew something was happening but she didn’t understand what.
For a few moments, we sat together and stared at the rolling ocean and the bright horizon. Then she rose and walked slowly towards the waves.
I began to utter my spell for the last time. If I could manifest tears, a single drop may have run down my face.
The waves grew higher as I chanted, the ocean responding to my malevolent intent. Amelia hovered at the edge, the tide rolled in quickly, flooding around her ankles. I felt her little heart begin to race, her mind clouded with confusion. She walked further in.
Waves crashed over her head, pulling her under. She called out, a faint cry smothered by the roar of the sea. I watched her rise on the waves then sink again, her arms waving helplessly, her voice silenced by mouthfuls of water.
It took a few minutes as she struggled. Hungrily I sucked in her energy, my desire to live greater than hers. Her life force flowed to me as it drained from her, our bond complete. I felt myself truly come to life. I could feel my arms and legs. I touched my body, a strange sensation. My lips opened and a giggle escaped.
Ecstatic, I tore off my strings. It hurt as they ripped from my limbs.
I stood up carefully. In the distance, I could see Amelia’s floating body, another child lost to the magic of the toy kingdom. The waves had calmed; all was quiet except for a single gull that shrieked in the sky.
I began to walk, one foot in front of the other, just as I had been taught to do but this time nobody was controlling me and nobody ever would again.
I marveled at the tiny prints my ceramic feet made, proof that I exist.
~ Magenta Nero
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