I turned to the doll, still clinging to me, still fragile as ever.
“Take back the garden,” I told her. “Draw your energy from the marionettes. Get your strength back, turn into your butterfly form and get away.”
She smiled sadly at me, but I was adamant.
“We can’t escape, but there’s no reason you have to go with us. Save yourself.”
Her expression turned sad, but the garden disappeared and the marionettes became small, strung up and stationary.
For an instant, she turned into the butterfly and began to fly away; then she returned to us, and to her doll form, larger, more energetic.
“Climb on my back,” she said, her voice scarcely above a whisper, but sweet, audible again.
In the next instant, she began to turn into a giant bird, large enough to carry us all. We obediently climbed on, and she took off, seconds before our pursuers reached the top, saw our escape and howled again in outrage.
We flew on, away from the town, over field, forest and mountains, holding onto the bird’s feathers for dear life as the wind whipped our hair and faces. She’d just passed the mountaintops when she began to slowdown, simultaneously shrinking so much so that we all had to pile on top of each other to stay on, Rashmi and me holding onto the feathers, the rest holding onto us. A beach and an ocean were coming up as she lost altitude – 10 feet from the ground, she became too small to carry us, and all of us tumbled into the sand.
I was unhurt, but shaken from the fall, sufficiently stunned that it took a minute or so for me to react to faint chirping I heard a meter or so away. I followed the sound, and found the doll, now a little bird, trying to sing.
I tore off the spectacles and found not a doll, but a miniature form of the beautiful girl I’d first seen, scarcely larger than the palm of my hand, weighing almost nothing. I didn’t need the spectacles any longer to see her the way she’d always wanted to be seen: She’d become, in her dying moments, what she’d wanted to be all her life.
Now, with no more to give, she sang faintly but freely, looking at us beatifically.
I caressed her hair a second, then passed her to the others, each saying goodbye in his or her own way. She’d just been passed back to me, barely in time for me to place a kiss on her forehead, when the singing stopped and she lay still.
I burst into tears, only dimly aware that Uncle Roddy held out a tiny wooden box. In one compartment was a velvet bed, just large enough to hold her, with a crystal lid; in another was a place with indentations, clearly intended for the spectacles.
“Come on, Reggie — it’s time.”
I handed him the latter first, still gently stroking the dead doll-girl’s hair with my finger, and only proffered her body reluctantly, even though her body was already growing stiff, and even after he’d shut the spectacles compartment. He gently laid her on the bed and closed the compartment.
“Come,” he said, pointing to a cozy Queen Anne house that had suddenly appeared perhaps 100 meters or so down the beach, “we need to put her back where she belongs.”
We walked sadly towards the house. Stan and my reflection placed a consoling arm on either side of my shoulders. No one answered our repeated knocks on the front door; it was unlocked, we entered with no difficulty.
The entire parlor was filled with cabinets, each one chock-a-block with miniatures, dolls or figurines. Uncle Roddy ignored them all; instead, he strode straight to the mantle atop a stone fireplace, and laid the box there.
As he did so, my reflection took me by the hand, looked me in the eye and stepped into me. A spasm shook my body upon our being reunited, and it took a moment for me to realize that Stan and Uncle Roddy were now gone,
Only Rashmi remained in the house, smiling at me with the same radiance Nicklaus had shown Hoffmann.
© 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One) and Walking Backward for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall are each now available from Amazon Books. The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is expected to be available shortly. The next novel of the series, By Good Angels Tenanted, will be available later in 2018