Part 1: The Wanderer
Fire. The doll had seen their master use fire before. He would coax the flickering substance to his will all the time. He might melt wax in his workshop to create seals or the occasional wax figure. At least, when he was alive.
The doll began to believe that fire was beautiful; surely it was. Flickering red and orange and yellow dancing in the air, warm as a summer day. Stunning yet harmless. It was only a tool that couldn’t hurt anyone, one that lit up fireplaces and melted wax and helped the doll cook.
Now the doll watched as their home, their master’s workshop, the place they had lived in went up in plumes of fire. Had the doll been able to smell, they would smell the acrid smoke spewing from the building. The building was disintegrating, its foundation and walls crashing to the ground. Everything was painted with bright red.
The doll stared on with a glassy look from a distance. In the shadows of the forest, with their long black cloak over their head, they looked like a ghost. They might as well have been a ghost. The doll didn’t know how they were born—no, created. They were a miracle. Their life was all because of the master.
There was another chunk of the roof that came soaring down. The doll turned away, thinking of the words the master had said so long ago.
One day, you will leave me.
The doll wanted to say goodbye but they knew better. Their master had already disappeared long before the fire had begun.
Until the fire, the doll lived with the master’s wife, the mistress. The doll had no idea what hate was, but they disliked the mistress with all of their cold body.
The master was gone. But the doll couldn’t help it. With a flat voice, they whispered into the burning workshop.“Goodbye, Master.”
The doll disappeared into the forest.
It had been almost seven months, if the doll was counting correctly, since the workshop, their home had burned into ash. They had been tirelessly traveling in the twisted forward. They never seemed to cover any ground at all.
It reminded the doll exactly why their master told them not to enter the forest. The twisted black trees and swampy ground all felt haunted by unfriendly spirits. The fog was thick and syrupy, making it easy to lose your way.
Day and night had melted into each other. Sun didn’t penetrate the canopy of gnarled branches. The doll walked and slept whenever they wanted to. They couldn’t get tired, after all.
The doll spent hours walking, their cloak billowing around them, and the small bag in their hands held tightly. They didn’t have to eat or drink. The only thing in the bag was a large bottle of the doll’s elixir, the one that they assumed kept them animated and the recipe for the potion. It was in the master’s handwriting, but the doll didn’t know what it said. It wasn’t in any language they understood.
Where was the doll going? They didn’t know. All they knew was they had to find someplace. Anywhere. They had simply lived without any apparent reason for many years with the master, and then, their mistress. The doll used to help the master in his workshop. He’d examine their porcelain skin and smile. “You are nothing more than a miracle.”
The doll had seen other dolls in their master’s workshop. They never spoke with each other, but they’d seen these comrades. Beings made from Earth, not Heaven, as the doll’s master would say. “Humans are made from whatever is in Heaven. But I think dolls are not lower than humans, even if they’re made of us humans who live on Earth.”
Then the master passed away. The doll had always read about heroes and heroines who took their last stand and died fighting. The master’s death was quiet. One day, he was alive and working; the next, he was stricken with the plague. He’d been bedridden for days, and the doll knew he would not stand ever again.
His funeral was small, with the mistress and all of his creations. The doll saw how much life the master had created. Dolls like themself, automatons creaking and cracking, moving marionettes and puppets, mechanical toys, odds, and ends. Some looked human, like the doll, others looked monstrous.
The workshop the master had lived in was indeed grand. The doll spent plenty of time with the master, but there were days when they would not see him at all. The master was kind. He would take care of all of his creations equally, or so the doll believed. It was a wonder the doll got to speak with the master. He had too many inventions to look after.
Ah yes, the mistress. Before their master’s death, the doll had rarely spoken to the mistress. Her eyes were pained, but her words were as sharp as a blade.
Coldly she had said, “What a foolish man, playing God with all of these inhuman creatures.”
The doll had known that the mistress didn’t love the master. They could see in the master’s sad eyes whenever he glimpsed his wife. What had connected them in the first place?
One day, he said, “There once was love. But all love fades eventually. It was passionate while it lasted.”
The doll would never experience love. They were nothing more than a porcelain shell who could only pretend. But even then, the doll didn’t know how to act.
If they had, would they have cried at the master’s funeral? They’d seen the master cry. Water coming out of the eyes like the eyes had become skies, and they were raining. The master had eyes blue as night skies, the doll thought.
The doll would never feel sadness. They would never be human.
The doll had seen dolls go out into the world, but they never lasted long. So the doll stayed with the master. They were content, as much as a doll could be.
The darkness and dampness were beginning to get to the doll. Repeatedly, the doll spent day and night in the unending forest. The doll recalled the recent years.
While the other years the doll recalled were good times, the recent years up to the burning were grueling. The mistress was the mirror opposite of the master. Cold, unfeeling, and cruel. She hated the master’s inventions with a passion.
Dozens of inventions were killed as soon as the master passed. Dozens more fled the master’s workshop in fear of their lives.
The doll couldn’t. They were bound to the workshop and physically couldn’t leave the workshop. The studio, a place filled with the warmth of the master, had become a gilded cage. The mistress saw the doll as a glorified worker.
You see, the doll never tired, and they couldn't get hurt. The master’s skillful craft assured that shattered limbs wouldn’t end the doll’s life. After drinking the elixir, the shards would rearrange themselves, and a little glue would keep them in place.
Another week, another month. Wandering aimlessly had become the doll’s reality. The doll hoped that they were moving forward, leaving the workshop behind. The doll couldn’t feel sadness, but the doll felt an urge to run.
There was no one but the doll in the forest. It had been that way for half of a year.
Then the monsters arrived. Dark, hulking creatures coming from nightmares. Grotesque limbs, twisted fingers, rabid eyes, sharp teeth.
The doll remembered the first night the monster had crept upon them. In the gloom of the forest, it was easy to ignore the details. After months and months, the doll had become used to ignoring their surroundings. They only had one goal, albeit blurry, in mind.
The monster was tall and spindly, with messy hair. It looked vaguely humanoid, but the spider legs and eyes clashed with the image. The doll heard the sound of the spider-monster moving behind them seconds before it pounced.
The doll leaped away from the monster with agility. From their belt came a pair of long blades. Without hesitation, the doll slashed at the beast. Dirty blood splattered everywhere. The monster hissed and scuttled away.
The doll had been trained to fight by the mistress. Had they wanted to? They were less than willing, but what other choice did they have?
Fighting, killing, bloodshed. These traits were all a part of them, something the master had embedded into them. They could have killed the mistress if they had wanted to. But it would have made the master sad.
But she was dead from the fire. No one but the doll had survived.
Slashing through monsters, walking and walking
Feeling the memories wash over them.
I think I miss the master.