THE DOLL FACTORY
By Elizabeth Brewer
I once woke to find my reflection unfamiliar. No longer a human as I had previously been, I was an old doll; cracked and broken down. Face crumbling as my eyes widened, joints creaking in my shock, the room spun as I tripped on my own slack strings, broken from their invisible source.
Others turned to face me, a well-known and clockwork-like morning routine broken by my awe. They too, now appeared less than human, moppet-ish and blood soaked; only yesterday they had seemed to be human. We were preparing for a day at work, a children’s doll factory, or so I had believed before that morning.
“Are you alright? You look pretty pale; do you want the nurse?”
One who had been at the mirror next to mine turned to me, offering a bloodied hand; knarled and twisted fingers the first thing I saw. I look up into its face, ceramic and still, rosy cheeks painted on in perfect circles. Its strings hung, near taut, leading from its arms, legs, and the back of its head; rising to a point just above all our heads where they seemed to disappear. Yet, despite its unanimated features and the reddish-brownish stains, it had a friendly look to it. Evidently, it did not see what I saw.
“N-no, no I think I’m fine, thank you.” I stammered as I took it’s offered hand gingerly, worried for breaking it with my weight. “What is this? A dream? Hallucination?”
It… or she? All the effigies surrounding me, who presently began to return to their routine, appeared to have female genitalia; a few covered by molding rags that had perhaps once been clothing, most having lost their scraps sometime before. Those with still a few tatters left on them seemed to be in better repair, as if they hadn’t been here as long as the rest. Some had near full sets of clothing, brown shaded frocks and petticoats. I apparently was here for a long time, noting my nakedness with a little embarrassment, remembering the work clothes I had worn yesterday and each day before.
I collected myself, and fearfully looked into the mirror again. My joints were ball and socket style, held together with the same strings that held everyone to the humane vision I had previously perceived. My body was thin and broken, my veneer was chipping away. Hair, now appearing to be brown yarn, was cut smartly by my ears; different to the long hair and tight bun I normally kept.
I looked closer at my eyes, solid black glass bulbs, too-large for my face. My lips were a small pink circle, the same color as the circles on my cheeks. A crease in my face drew from ear to ear, separating my jaw from the rest of my head. This jaw was evidently also held by the string, as one side hung slack; string stuck out where it had once held whole. In my slack-jawed open maw was nothing, there were no teeth, no tongue, merely a new view of where my neck was attached to my head.
I saw the obvious marks left by blood, speckles on my face in a horrifying splatter. I too, like all those in this room, had absorbed this blood into my porcelain-esque skin. Fresh and old stains alike brought the only true color to our off-white surfaces.
Interrupting my personal musings, a loud klaxon-like bell sounded out, though there was no speaker or bell in sight. Those who were brushing their teeth, or rather the lacking space where teeth should be, finished and put away their things. I heard a flush and came to the realization we were in a communal restroom, wondering how I did not remember such a simple and obvious fact. All finished their morning shuffles, grumbles, and processes of personal care, and began to file through the doorway.
Along with the recollection of the “room-with-a-mirror-in-which-I-saw-a-horrifying-new-version-of-myself” as actually being a toilet area, I recalled that the loud ringing in my ears meant that the work day had started; all who were more than three minutes late to their workbench were penalized.
“What a strange dream…” I thought, sure of myself now, as I shuffled into the large and ever growing group of figures that were headed away from the dorm areas and towards work. I saw no reason not to join them, if this were only a dream.
Work, as I remembered it, was the creation of children’s dolls. Every day, for an amount of time I found I couldn’t number, myself and my co-workers went to our benches and put together little wooden dollies with hammer and saw and needle. Every night we went back to the dorms and slept. We lived at our work. “I must be working too hard.”
Together we advanced into a hallway where we bottle-necked and turned to single file. Up ahead was a long, long, exponentially long wall covered in little wooden placards. As we filed by, each grabbed one. It was my turn now; I grabbed the next one and found a number uncountably familiar. It was my number; the one I had pinned to my shirt every day.
I watched those in front of me, not knowing what to do with the pin now that my normal work clothes seemed to be missing from tonight’s dream. To my horror, they each poked the sharp clasp of the pin into their breasts, near where, since this morning, I could no longer feel my heart beating.
I looked down and found a small hole in my chest. Cautiously I pushed the pin into the little hole, careful not to jostle it as I walked forward, and was surprised that I felt no pain.
“The boss has you on extra time today, you’ll be working at bench 5631 section 7.”
We had reached a doorway, in which stood another doll holding a clipboard, same in appearance to all of us except for the fact that she had not been stained, and had no strings at all. I paused in surprise for only a moment, she had already begun to give the day’s orders to the next in line.
Walking forward while watching her assign duties, I stepped into an immeasurably large room. Then, turning my head to see where I was going, my eyes were met with purely terrifying carnage. I stopped in my tracks as others behind me made their way around, ignoring my alarm.
Tied down to each of the thousands of benches was a human child, boys and girls alike. Eviscerated, each was flayed, their blood, clothes, and feces spilling onto the chairs and pooling on the floor. I watched the pool stream down to a large cloth clogged drain, cooling and moving like molasses as it lost human temperature.
I froze, staring at that lazy and effervescent red river, trembling. Then, I heard the noises. I heard soft moans, and so many short and quiet sobs, and the whimpering, oh god those whimpers. They, each and every child despite their disgusting state, was somehow still alive. Mixed in with the hellish sounds of the children, was the even more terrible cheery chatter of my fellows.
Transfixed, I was pushed forward almost gently by the growing swarm behind me. I sat heavily, the ensanguined chair squelched, muck covered my thighs and dripped over the edge of the chair. Others began to settle down around me, picking up tools, and began to do what they surely saw as making the toys I had always seen before. I turned my eyes from their broken hands, I couldn’t bear to watch what they were about to do. They did not notice my distress.
The child at my bench… poor sweet thing. Her arms no longer strained at the ties as they must have before, her wrists and ankles covered in dry red welts. Her chest and stomach were open and aired, blood still flowing from twitching veins. I cannot describe the gore that was her innards, spilled unidentifiable onto the bench around her. Her heart was plain to see, still beating. She looked at me.
Somehow, she knew that unlike the others, I was able to see her for what she really was and not some happy delusion. Her eyes were wide and cloudy, shine lost to immense amounts of pain. There were tear tracks on her face; nearly clean rivulets in a mask of blood and dirt. It seemed she could not cry anymore, had used up all her tears. My hands trembled as her lips did, a sigh escaped her little mouth as she closed her eyes and shifted her head away from me.
I pushed away from the table, stumbled into a corner and threw up. There was nothing there, only dry heaving. What could a doll with no throat throw up anyways? Turning back, and looking at the tables around me, I saw so many in all different stages of that diabolical process. “This is no dream.” Now numb, I saw, I finally saw the truth.
They were being changed, limbs pulled away at the joints, blood drained, hearts removed, skin covered with a baked on and shiny fresh coat of off-white ceramic. No matter boy or girl, each one was given a new appearance as female, and dressed in new frocks and petticoats, all in shades of brown. Brown yarn was stitched into their scalps, Cut smartly by their ears. Thread was sewn onto new limbs, and finally, when that thread was attached to the back of each new dolls head, they slept and felt peace. They would never remember this pain, or their previous lives, unless they turned out like me.
But what had happened to me? How? I didn’t understand. I knew it had something to do with the strings, as unlike all of the others around me, mine were not lifted into the air in marionette fashion. Why weren’t they?
I couldn’t think on it much longer, however, because the stringless doll that had stood in the doorway and had been directing my colleagues noticed my prone form in the corner. She watched me for a moment, then still watching, turned out of the room and walked off. I was in far too much shock to think about the connotations, and how much trouble I would be in. I plopped myself down, and watched the room with blank, unblinking eyes. The stream of blood lazily making its way to the nearest drain burned itself into my vision. In my peripheral view, I watched the fingers of the children twitch and curl as they were irreparably changed for the worse. Far, far worse.
What felt like hours passed, but it could only have been a few moments. The stringless doll had come back, and behind her stood a tall and dark figure. I brought my eyes up from the slick tiles of the floor only when I heard a voice call out: “624413-GGb9”.
I looked up at the source of the voice. She, was the boss. But now, oh, now I saw the truth. She too, was different to what I was meant to see. She wore a white cloak, red growing up from the bottom where the blood she trod in was soaked up. It was buttoned up in the front, so all that I could see was her face. What had been a handsome face filled with kind joy was now plainly heinous. Pale, pale skin drawn too, too tight over the skull underneath. No lips covered her black and rotting teeth, no lids covered her sunken eyes; cloudy blue all over. Hair balding, wiry grey strands pulled over a speckled scalp into a tie at the top of her head, and lead away to the ceiling, the floor, and directly to the dolls in the room. I saw each strand that controlled each doll. Not thread or string, but hair.
She was watching me. I stood up, careful not to slip in the muck that covered the floor. Slowly I made my way over to the doorway where she stood. Along with the stringless doll I first saw, there were others standing behind her, all staring with open malice.
“Are you alright? Would you like to see the nurse?”
She spoke, and it was a horrible voice, slithering out between those rotten teeth with a rasp and a rattle. I don’t know why she bothered to ask, she could clearly see that my strings were no longer attached to her. I didn’t answer, I didn’t know what to say. After a moment, she spoke again. “I will take you, I insist.”
What would happen to me now? Surely the nurse would either terminate me, or I would be reconnected to the boss and I would go back to work, not remembering my revelation. I couldn’t stand the thought, knowing that whatever I would do next would be horrible, atrocious, disgusting.
“Please, give me a moment first.” I said to her.
She paused, and nodded. Looking around me, I saw a high, tall window. I got up, walked to it, and peered out of it; the ground was a dizzying distance down. I could see the green, green grass, and the trunks of far-off trees, and bright patches of flowers that swelled and bobbed in the wind. I turned away from the window, and trudged back to the doorway, knowing what I must do.
I stopped in front of her, shoulders stiff and head held high, and asked the most important question.
She knew surely, that I could see her havoc and not the world she created around herself. She answered me this:
“I am so, so lonely.”
I looked at our feet, mine bare and hers hidden by her cloak. Both stained red by the floor beneath us that held the evidence of the truth.
I looked up at her once more. I turned and sprinted back towards the tall pane.
I crashed through the glass, shards scraping at my ceramic body, leaving long gouges. They blead the blood of innocents, absorbed into me over the years of doll-making. Plummeting towards the base of the building, my strings snapped smartly in the air above me, crumbles of skin flew from my face with the wind, my jaw clacked against the side of my head in the flow of the plummet, my pin came loose and shot away from my body at frightening speed.
Like an old friend, the ground came up to meet me. I shattered into a million pieces, my bones so old they had turned to dust inside of me. The blood that was not mine, and the dust that was, both spilled over the ground and was absorbed into the soft green grass. From whatever she was that made me and held me in that factory of dolls, I was free.
About the Author:
Lizzy Brewer is from a small town in NY, USA. She is a 19 year old college student, turning 20 on June 24th. She loves reading and writing, art, and cats. Her childhood dream was to become a published author. “Getting my first story published is probably the best birthday gift ever!”