Saturday, January 1, 2011

Doll’s Hands

Akiko stood at the gate of the Yamashita’s Western-style home. It had been a while since she visited her friend Miyu. She was asked to come today, though, by their teacher, to give Miyu the work she’d missed. It was weird that Miyu suddenly got sick; she was the healthy, lively type and this was a rare occurrence for her. Even when she did get sick the couple of times that Akiko could remember, Miyu didn’t stay ill for long. For her to suddenly get sick and to miss almost two weeks of school on top of that? It didn’t sound like her at all which made Akiko worry.

Sliding open the large, wooden gate, she quickly remembered how the family loved keeping everything well-maintained. The lawn, fresh and vibrant green, was neatly and squarely cut. Not a single weed or other unsightly blemish was to be found. Even the paint on the house looked like it was new. She walked toward the oak front door, packet in her hand, and noticed the unsettling silence that blanketed the house. It was as if the house and its immediate surroundings had been placed in a soundproof bubble.

As she crossed the stone pavers toward that door, she looked around, expecting to hear birds chirping or something but heard nothing. The silence felt like it was drowning her, forcing her toward the ground. Akiko stopped for a moment, looking for any sign of moving life, but was still greeted by overwhelming silence. Her feet hurried toward the door, her heart fluttering. She knocked. And waited. It felt like she waited a while. She began to speak as soon as the door finally opened, her eyes cast toward the floor with respect.
    “Hello, I’m Akiko Watanabe, one of Miy—"
She stopped as she felt something coming uncomfortably close to her personal space which made her look to see who had opened the door. Her eyes were met with large black ones that blinked curiously at her. Taking a step back, Akiko realized a little girl had answered the door and was looking at her as if she hadn’t seen another human before. Her face was round and full and her skin looked like it never saw sunlight, almost as if it were made of porcelain. Chocolate colored hair fell into the soft waves of curls that had begun to come undone. Just as Akiko was looking at the girl, she, too, was being examined. The child’s eyes caught sight of her visitor’s hands and without hesitation took hold of one to look at further. Her hands were tiny and cold, but they held Akiko’s with both gentleness and firmness as if she were handling a precious item.
    “Your hands are so pretty,” the little girl commented, voice quiet and as tiny as the rest of her. With the utmost care, she examined the hand, turning it this way and that, bending the wrist and posing the fingers. Akiko didn’t know what to do or say; she wasn’t exactly comfortable with a strange girl getting so close to her without permission, but it wasn’t like this girl was doing anything harmful, either. She was just a curious little girl, Akiko supposed.
    “Um…” she began, hoping to get the little girl’s attention. Sure enough, black eyes returned to looking at Akiko’s face. “I’m a classmate of Miyu’s, I was asked to bring some work to her. Can I give them to her?” she asked. A couple seconds of silence passed between them as the little girl thought this over.
    “You’re here to see Onee-chan*?” She finally asked with a pin drop of disappointment in her tone. “Well, come in, then.”
Onee-chan? Akiko couldn’t recall Miyu having a little sister. At least, she didn’t remember her friend saying anything like that. But, if this little girl called Miyu that then it must be so. The little girl quietly brought Akiko through the house, an energetic bounce in her small steps.

Akiko looked around and took note of the details of the living room they passed through. The walls were a soft cream color with detailed rectangular paneling and a white trim running along the top, where several pictures of various shapes and sizes hung. A few featured trees and gardens with lush colors; a couple depicted open fields and rivers, green and thriving in the height of spring; one had a girl, standing and looking at the viewer, holding a china doll tightly in her arms, with a look of sadness in her eyes.. The dark wood couches and armchair were upholstered with matching cream fabric and positioned just so around the square, dark wood coffee table that had magazines arranged perfectly on it. The red and off-white Persian rug beneath their feet muffled most of the noise they made as they crossed the room. An old grandfather clock stood stiffly in the corner of the room, its massive bronze pendulum making the only other noise in the house.

The silence that loomed outside, it seemed, pervaded inside the house as well. Everything looked as though it had been cleaned just a few minutes before her arrival and yet there was this feeling that Akiko couldn’t shake off, a feeling that the room hadn’t been touched or disturbed in years. Everything was immaculate; there was not a speck of dust to be removed, not a spider web to be seen in any corner, not a trace of life. Nothing but the sound of the girls’ footsteps and the ticking that the grandfather clock emitted from its corner in the room. Akiko blinked, eyes returning to the picture of the girl, staring for a few moments, before continuing to follow the small girl.
They moved through the hallway which had the same cream colored walls and hardwood floors. They reached the staircase on the other side of the hallway, which the little guide started climbing, holding onto the railing and taking one step at a time, making sure that both feet were on the step before she proceeded any further.
    “So,” Akiko began, trying to break the silence that fell upon them again, for the grandfather clock could no longer be heard. “What’s your name?”
    “Ai,” the little girl said, not looking at Akiko as she slowly made her way up the stairs.
    “And how old are you, Ai?” Akiko asked after a few more moments of silence. Anything to get rid of it would work.
They reached the top of the stairs and Ai soon turned to Akiko, tiny hands folded behind her back as she fidgeted slightly before the older girl.
    “Well, see… Onee-chan's sleeping right now, and, and, so you can’t go see her right now,” she mustered, fumbling over her words. “Why don’t you play with me until she wakes up?” Her large black eyes looked up to Akiko, who frowned slightly.
    “I’m sorry, but I can’t. I need to give these papers to your sister and go home.”
Ai stared up at Akiko for a few moments, before her face contorted and a whimpering sound came from her throat. She started crying, right then and there, crying about how she was so lonely and she didn’t have anyone to play with and how it wasn’t fair, stamping her foot in anger.

Akiko stared, bewildered by the sudden onslaught of tears; having no interactions with small children before, she had no idea how to respond to this behavior.
    “I-If I play with you for a little while, will you stop crying?” Akiko asked desperately. Ai’s crying ceased almost instantaneously.
    “Yeah, yeah!” Ai smiled, gently grabbing Akiko’s hand and guiding the girl toward her room. Once at the door, the little girl stopped to pull a necklace up and over her head; it was plain with a brass key attached and used to unlock the door.
Ai’s room contrasted starkly to the rest of the house. Where the rooms downstairs had very clean, simply-elegant color palettes, this room had bright pastel colored walls, white-washed furniture and floral motifs. There was a large bed with white curtains and in front of it a large, pink and purple chest sat, overstuffed with costumes of various sorts and other accessories thrown around it. A small table with a few chairs sat toward one side of the room, with a tea set spread out on it and with a few dressed up stuffed animals seated in the chairs. There was a door on the other side of the room, off by the corner, but it was shut and there were no indications as to what it was.
    ‘Maybe a bathroom?’ she thought.
As Akiko looked around, taking in the massive piles of stuffed animals and games, she felt the room get slightly colder, making her shudder. There was, in the corner of the room, a series of papers that were stuck to the wall with flower stickers. As Akiko moved closer, she noticed that many of them were clippings from journals and magazines or printed pages from websites. The headlines of many of them spoke of a strange medical term Akiko had never heard of. Something about immunity, “B lymphocytes”—‘whatever those were,’ Akiko thought—and frequent infection.
    ‘It must be a disease. But… Why would a little girl have this on her wall?’ She mentally questioned, her eyebrows furrowing as she looked closer at the clippings. The rest of that page was covered by another article.
Ricin: A chemical made from processed castor beans, Ricinus Communis, and is fatal in small doses. Can be ingested, injected, and inhaled. When purified, it becomes a white powder. Dissolved, it is odorless, colorless, and flavorless. There is currently no cure or antidote for it. Symptoms can appear in as little as a few hours and often include--
There seemed to have been more written but it was torn in half.
    “Hey, Ai,” Akiko asked, as she started to gloss over the fragments. “What are these papers? Do you know what they’re talking about?”
Ai didn’t respond. Instead, she sat in front of the costume chest, looking through all sorts items with a small smile on her face.

Akiko moved away from the corner, as she spotted a dollhouse. It was large, perhaps a few feet tall, and as she moved closer, she noticed the high level of detail that went into making the house. The main room on the first floor had pink walls and white, Victorian furniture. There were two couches and an armchair arranged perfectly around a square coffee table with some tiny, fingernail-sized magazines spread over it. There were all sorts of miniature paintings stuck to the walls and a large, white grandfather clock in the corner. The room led to the hallway which had a staircase that led to the second floor, which had four rooms in it; two of which had their furniture thrown about in chaos and completely void of all colors; the third room was bright and colorful and looked like a child’s room, with pink walls and white furniture. A little girl doll sat on the bed in that room, with brown hair and a pink dress. The fourth room was tiny and attached to the bright, colorful room. In it were a few chairs, a large shower, and a couple of empty tables, as if it were a craft studio of sorts. A Victorian-styled doll sat in that room. A chill ran down Akiko’s spine.
    “We’re in the middle of a tea party, but you can come, too, Onee-chan. Here, put these on,” Ai smiled, getting up and hurrying over to the girl who had moved away from the dollhouse.
Akiko knelt down, letting Ai put a boa around her neck and a tiara on her. Ai then put a poofy pink tutu on as well as a princess hat, telling the older girl that they were both fairy princesses, before bringing Akiko to the table.
    “Now, choose an animal. You can have either Mr. Kero or Mrs. Nya,” Ai held out the two animals for Akiko to choose; Akiko took Mr. Kero, the frog. The two girls took their seats and Ai turned on a small electric kettle which took a few minutes to heat up the water she put in.
    “So, Ai…” Akiko began, watching the small child. “Where are your parents? I haven’t seen or heard them since I’ve been here.”
Ai’s face hinted at a frown momentarily, before pouring a cup of tea into one of the small cups and handing it to Akiko.
    “…Mama?Is that you? Mama? Where are you?!”
    “…Ai?” Akiko asked, but got no response. After a few moments, Ai blinked and looked up to the older girl, quickly smiling before sipping her cup of tea. A little time passed, the two girls sipping a few cups of tea and playing with the stuffed animals. Ai poured another cup of tea for Akiko, who looked at the door.
    “Well, I have to give these to your sister and head back. It’s been fun playing with you, but I really have to go now.”
    “No, Mama! Don’t! I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna!”
Ai’s eyes widened, watching Akiko get up and move to the door. She quickly put a spoonful of sugar in Akiko’s cup.
    “Just drink one more cup before you… go,” Ai’s voice quieted as she handed Akiko the cup. A small smile spread over her face as she watched the older girl take the cup.
    “Alright, but this is the last cup. I really have to go, Ai,” Akiko said, forcing a smile. After a few moments, she felt a little nauseated, but figured it was because she was hungry.
    “Oh! Before you go, I have to show you my doll! She’s really pretty, you’ll love her.” Ai eagerly rushed off to a separate room before Akiko could object. The older girl sighed and, after waiting a little while, sat back down at the tea table. Her stomach suddenly felt sore and the nausea returned.
    “No peeking!”Ai called out soon after, still from the other room.
Akiko closed her eyes. She heard some shuffling and dragging noises after a few minutes and resisted the urge to throw up.
    “Okay, you can look now!”
It was the most elaborate, beautifully made doll Akiko had seen. She was the size of Akiko, actually, with a pretty pale lavender Victorian-styled dress and matching bonnet. Everything looked so real, so life-like. Even her soft, chocolate brown curls and fair skin looked real. A chill ran down Akiko’s spine.
    “Wow, Ai, it’s amazing! Can I touch it?” She asked, and the little girl nodded, a creeping, cat-like grin now on her face. Akiko noticed it became a bit hard to breathe. She tilted back the doll’s head and jumped back, knocking over the table and shattering the tea set in the process. Hands thrown over her mouth, she stared in horror, unable to turn away from the sight before her. There, with soft, black eyes that shone dully, sat Miyu. Akiko wanted to scream but her throat would not allow it and she seemed permanently glued in place, weighed so far down with shock and disgust. She wanted to cry for her friend and demand to know how Ai could do such a thing. She wanted to think that this hadn’t actually happened. It wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be!
    “What’s wrong? Don’t you think big sister looks adorable as a doll? The best part is she won’t ever leave me…” Ai stood up slowly, walking toward Akiko, her smile spreading into an unsettling grin. “And neither will you.”
    “…N-No… No!” Akiko ran to the door but it was locked. Her heart began palpitating, her body shaking, she tried forcing the door open, shaking and pounding on the door as hard as she could. “Please! Somebody, anybody, help—Please!” She cried.
    “No one else is here, silly. Mama hasn’t been here in two whole years,” Ai’s own voice quivered now, tears starting to form in her eyes.
Akiko soon collapsed to the floor. Her heart ached and her chest felt like it was shrinking to a speck as if it wouldn’t allow her to breathe no matter how hard she tried. She struggled, desperately clawing at her school uniform, trying to breathe in, but couldn’t. Ai stood over her, crying and laughing at the same time.

      “I told you not to leave me! I didn’t want to be alone! You left me alone when I needed you most, Mama! Well, now I don’t have to ever be alone again. You, and Onee-chan, and Akiko will stay with me forever and we can play all day and I won’t get sick ever again!”

And then Akiko’s vision went black.

Ai soon dragged Akiko’s body off to the door that was off to the side and into a redesigned bathroom. There were two long, knee-high tables with small stools by them, and several dissection tools in different containers. She paused for a few minutes, coughing, before washing her hands and then putting on long gloves. Ai carefully took off Akiko’s clothes before pulling her body into the walk-in shower. She took time washing Akiko’s hair and skin so they were as clean as possible, before retrieving a scalpel. She made a few incisions along Akiko’s abdomen and carefully took out as many organs as she could, blood flowing into the shower drain.
    “You have to stay in your room, sweetheart.”
    “We can’t have you getting sick again, can we?”
    “Why do I get sick all the time?”
    “Well, Daddy says that your body doesn’t have everything it needs to protect itself from getting sick. He says it’s best for you to stay in your room, where it’s safe.”
The organs made the oddest shloshing noise as they moved around in the bucket Ai brought into the shower. She brought Akiko’s body over to one of the tables, laying her out. She stuffed the body cavity with medical gauze to soak up any extra blood that hadn’t drained yet, moving limbs to move blood faster to the gauze stuffing.
    “You told me you’d stay with me today!” Ai whined, lying in bed with an IV drip in her arm.
    “I’m sorry, honey… Daddy says—“
    “But you promised! I hate being by myself…” She started sniffling and whimpering.
    “I’m sorry, honey. But, I bought you a new doll! It was the one you wanted, right?”
    “Really? Thank you, Mama!” Ai’s face instantly brightened.
Process nearly complete, Akiko took a small sewing needle and silk stitches, and gently began stitching up the incisions. She made sure to make tiny, even stitches that wouldn’t be seen. Though Akiko’s skin was treated, it still gave a bit of resistance before accepting the needle with a muffled pop. It sounded like Ai was puncturing a peach. She began coughing again, lungs starting to hurt.
    “I’m sorry, honey, but, Daddy says—“
    “No!” Ai knew this day was coming. “No, don’t! I don’t want it!”
    “I’m sorry, but it’s for your own good. You need to stay healthy.”
    “I am healthy! I don’t wanna be alone!” She started crying.
    “Well, I got you a present. I know how much you love dolls and when I saw this, I thought of you. I’m really sorry.” The porcelain doll was left at the foot of the bed and Ai’s mother walked toward the door.
    “No, Mama! Don’t! I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna!” Ai started throwing pillows, stuffed animals, anything she could get her hands on. Her mother didn’t look back as she walked out of the door. Ai threw the doll at the closed door, watching it shatter and leave a chip on the doorframe.

     “Would you like more tea, Akiko?” Ai asked, as she poured more into the child-sized cup before her friend who sat beside Onee-chan. Her parents lifelessly watched with their unnatural, glass-like eyes from the crack in the door that connected to the other room. “You have such pretty hands, just like a doll’s…” she smiled before sipping from her own cup. The cough returned, wracking her lungs with pain as she spent several minutes coughing.

*A term of endearment, meaning “big sister.” © 2010 Brooke Clifford

Click on Brooke Clifford  for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

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