The Porcelain Doll (Three Crow Press Fiction)
By Susan Cunningham
Cobwebs, dust, and stale air crush me like the weight of bricks. Time no longer matters in this musty old attic. How long has it been since I’ve been held and loved?
The feeling of tiny hands as they gently caress my hair seems like a distant memory. The sounds of children playing somewhere in the distance teases my loneliness. I desperately want them to find me, but I know what danger lurks if they do. Sometimes, they are so close. I imagine I will be found, and then my hopes shatter as the voices fade.
Today is different. The voices are much nearer this time.
Do I dare hope?
Strong hands grasp my leg and drag me through the dirt. A tall man with a gentle face holds me in the air, and I swing about like a pendulum.
“Amy, look at this doll,” the man says as he hands me to a thin faced woman whose hair looks as untidy as mine must be.
“Wow, Sarah would love her, look at the big blue eyes. I used
to have a porcelain doll when I was young too. She’s a mess though.”
I must be covered with dirt and grime.
“It might keep her busy for a while,” says the man as he sweeps the floor again. “Ever since we moved in, she’s been under our feet.”
I watch as clouds of dust swirl about the attic. The sun shining through the tiny window makes the dust sparkle like specks of gold. The woman shakes me about as we head towards the stairs. Years of accumulated dirt fall away from me like cake flour being sifted. My legs clack together as we make our way down the rickety stairs.
“Yuck, you smell as bad as you look. I don’t know if Sarah will even want you.”
It’s not my fault I had to hide in the attic. He is the one that always hurts them.
We make our way from the attic to the third floor. I remember these rooms well. We stop at the one room I never want to see again.
“Sarah, look what we found in the attic!”
“Oh, Mamma, she’s beautiful. Can I keep her?”
Oh, joy! Thank you. You’re beautiful too.
“Only if you clean her up. Why don’t you stop unpacking for a bit and give her a bath. “
Yes, a bath is just what I need. Then she’ll want to hug me.
Mamma hands me to the little girl called Sarah. Her eyes welcome me with warmth I haven’t seen in many years. She takes me to the bath and gently sets me on the edge of the tub while she prepares the water. After testing the temperature with her toes, she climbs in and grabs a wash cloth. The scent of jasmine and lavender mixed with the water dribbles over me like the feeling of a warm summer rain. She scrubs the dirt away and picks debris from my curly blonde hair. Next, she scours my lace dress over and over again until the filth melts away. I feel so clean and fresh as she wraps me in a warm soft blanket. She takes me in her arms; all the despair and memories wash away. Life is perfect again.
I like Sarah. We play dress up and have tea outside on the porch. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the light of day. There are other dolls here too, but I don’t mind, I’m Sarah’s favorite now. At bedtime, she places me on a tiny rocking chair next to her bed and lies down. The moonlight shines through the window, and I can see her chest gently rise and fall as she sleeps. Her long, dark hair wraps around the soft skin of her face and reflects the sense of peace within her.
As I stare fondly at my new friend, a flash of blackness darts
by the empty hall. A moment later it returns, this time stopping at the door.
It can’t be. Despair, hope always leads to despair.
I can feel him looking at me.
Sarah, wake up, he’s coming!
Sarah tosses and turns, but settles back to sleep.
Please, let her wake up.
He floats inside the door and slithers along the wall. His large brimmed hat is now clearly visible. He looks up, and his cold piercing eyes glare towards me.
The light explodes around us and he disappears.
“Sarah, was that you?” asks Mamma as she removes her hand from the light switch.
Mamma walks to the bed and gently kisses her cheek, then pulls the blankets up around her. She turns and stands in front of the rocking chair, gathering me in her arms.
“You smell a lot better now, but you look like someone has just stolen your best friend.”
The rest of the night is uneventful. Maybe he is gone for good, but I thought that the last time too. He always returns, ever since that night when he took Abigail away from me.
I loved Abigail. I still remember the way she cradled me in her arms as she sang. Her soft tone felt like a velvet blanket enveloping me. Her voice was my first sense of awareness. Weak like a distant light in the fog, it became stronger until one morning the fog lifted, and I could see the angel that sang to me. Locks of long brown hair dangled against her round cheeks. Her head tilted slightly, and she smiled as if she sensed my presence.
Abigail and I were best friends. Father lived with us too, but Mother had died the year before. He did the best he could, but Abigail spent much of her time alone. After her daily chores were done, we would spend the rest of the day together.
He came a short time later; the stranger in town that no one wanted. I remember him visiting father and asking for work. Abigail hugged me close and whispered to me that he was bad. Father was a kind soul though, and hired him. Maybe he thought extra help would give him more time with Abigail. We stayed away from the bad man when he was around. Abigail said she didn’t like the way he looked at us.
On that last night, she laid me next to her and settled down to sleep. It was very cold, much colder than a typical October night. I watched her eyes close, not knowing it was her final sleep.
I heard the footsteps first. Slow and methodical, they echoed throughout the hall. Then the footsteps stopped, and I felt his presence in the doorway. Dressed in a black trench-coat that draped to the floor, he wore a large hat that covered his features when he looked down. He lifted his head, a snake-like smile stretched across his face.
He didn’t move for the longest time, he just stared at my beloved Abigail. The stranger was evil, and I knew he would hurt her. He took a few steps towards the bed and stopped again. He removed a simple chord rope from his jacket pocket. I watched as he strangled the life from her, then threw his head back and smiled.
The smile soon disappeared behind a loud crack followed by a screech of pain. Father had come home. The bad man soon drew his last breath, but death was not the end. Father wept as he dropped his rifle and lifted Abigail’s lifeless body into his arms. He ran out of the room and down the stairs. He must have thought he could save her, but I knew it was too late. At the end of the bed, a ghostly figure emerged. It was him. He looked towards me with an intense hate, like I was Abigail, and he had somehow failed.
I remained without a friend for a few years after Abigail died. He would sometimes come at night and stare at me. Then Carolyn came, and I was happy with her. She played with me just like Abigail did. At first, he would just watch her. Night after night, he stood at the foot of her bed, just staring. I was scared, but as time went by I thought Carolyn was safe. I was wrong, evil knows no boundaries. I felt his power get stronger with each passing night, until one bright moonlit night when he smothered her.
And so, it continued, new friends would come, but once I felt safe and secure, my world would crumble around me. I began to feel his energy more and more each time. I could now move when he was close. I tried to warn some of them, but he was stronger than me. Why does he always return? All I want is a friend to love.
The last killing was more than I could bear, so I used his energy and fled to the attic, where I buried myself in the rubble. But I’ve been found. I desperately wanted to be found, I was lonely, but how could I be so selfish? I wish I was still buried in the safety of my rubble.
The morning light filters through the windows, and I see my Sarah stir. She bounces out of bed and grasps me in her arms.
“Come on, baby, let’s go get breakfast.”
She doesn’t know what evil lurks here. He was almost to her side when Mamma saved her. I don’t want night to come anymore. What if Mamma isn’t here to help her next time? I couldn’t bear to lose Sarah. It’s my fault. He wouldn’t have come if I wasn’t here. The evil man only hurts those that I love.
“Good morning, Mamma!” says Sarah as we sit down at the table.
“How did you sleep little Muffins?”
“I was cold,” says Sarah as she sets me on the chair next to her.
“Well, I don’t wonder. I heard you tossing about, and when I checked on you, I saw your blankets at your feet,” Mamma stirs the scrambled eggs about the pan. “So, have you named your new doll?”
“Hmm, I don’t know,” Sarah gently pushes my hair to the side. “Why was she in the attic? Didn’t anyone want her?”
“She’s very old, but I’m sure some little girl a long time ago loved her just like you do now.”
“Mamma, why does she look so sad?”
Mama picks me up and inspects my face. “Well, she probably misses her old Mommy, but I’m sure she’ll love having you as her new one.”
We finish breakfast and return to Sarah’s room. I am very scared. Will tonight be the night? Sarah sits me on the blanket next to her, and we play with her doll friends. They aren’t like me though. I can tell they are empty souls. Why am I different? Is it because Abigail loved me?
Night comes, and I can feel the air change. A storm begins to rage outside, but I know a different type of storm will start soon. Sarah tucks me neatly under the covers next to her. Mamma approaches and gives us both a hug and kiss.
“Hold her close Sarah; you wouldn’t want anything to happen to her.”
“I will, Mamma. Goodnight.”
Mamma switches the light off as she leaves, and soon the rest of the house embraces the darkness as well. The silence roars around me, except for the occasional crack of thunder and the sound of rain as it bounces off the window. I can’t see the door tonight, but I can feel his presence grow with each passing moment. I hear the door creak as it slowly opens. I wait, hoping it’s Mamma stopping to check on Sarah, but the silence continues.
The lightning flashes outside, and I can see his shadow illuminated on the wall.
No, please go away.
The hard wooden floor creaks, this time at the foot of Sarah’s bed.
Mamma, help us!
Another flash of lightning, I can see his form clearly, but he doesn’t move. He hovers before me, his eyes glaring.
The thunder rumbles, and he is now staring at Sarah. I can feel his energy, but it’s not enough, I can’t move.
His head nods up and down, and he turns back to me before walking closer. He speaks, but no sound emerges. He is almost upon us.
What if I wasn’t here? Could he still hurt her if I was gone?
I can feel his energy now. It flows through me too, and I slowly rise to my feet. A smile now consumes his face. Maybe it isn’t them that he wants to hurt, maybe it’s me? I’m the last piece of Abigail remaining.
I gaze lovingly at Sarah.
I won’t let her suffer because of me.
I inch closer to the edge of the bed. I look down at the hard floor below and then back at the bad man waiting to consume her. He will never hurt anyone again, including me. Sarah will mourn my loss for a while, and maybe feel guilty that she didn’t protect me, but at least she will be safe.
I step off the edge of the bed and plunge to the floor below. I hear the sound of porcelain shatter, followed by a painful howl. The fog closes in around me as the last glimmer of consciousness slips away, but I am comforted by tender arms holding me and the sound of a familiar melody.
Susan Cunningham can be contacted at: scunninghamnhwriter [at] yahoo.com.