• The windows had chilled in the winter morning and fogged up, rendering all vision of the world outdoors virtually incomprehensible, or perhaps dream-like. It had been more than four days of rain, which was appropriate for a withered flower bed that had been rendered far too hard for anything to grow since the turn of the seasons, but how on earth would such a tiny dandizette like Mary-Anne find any amusement in the dreary muck in the mud? Father would certainly scold her for dirtying her petticoat without question.

    Impatient, but attentive. Impish but apologetic. Curious and yet afraid. Mary-Anne was perhaps ordinary for a child of nine, regardless of the fact a witch on the moon smiled upon her in the womb and blessed her with a spotless accommodation in which to call home. A fabulous house that was bordered by carmine roses as though angels had been sent to sow their seeds. The finest rosewood furnishings upon impeccable carpet. Her mother a grand pianist, her father an archaeologist of fine and exotic worlds that were presented to a curious and tantalizing world of "wonders and worries", as the papers might have described it every Monday when Nanny brought in the milk bottle.

    But perfection is not without it's own imperfection, if one could imagine that. Mary-Anne, though quite porcelain and petite, was bored. Bored and with too many things to occupy her youthful mind. She had books, but with too many pages to be bothered with. Blocks with a daunting amount of pieces to be put together. Piano practice was no thrilling engagement on such a dull, gray day.

    As the rain splattered against the glass, the little girl in her white dress was holding her combing mirror to see how the world looked behind her as she wandered in such a large house. It was as expected, like when one walks backwards. Perhaps it gave her reason to smirk when she saw people behind her, but otherwise the experience was honestly less than exhilarating. She was just to let her arm sink downwards when something entered the looking glass' reflection. It was in her own bedroom. Small and rich in a violet color with a fresh coat of pink paint. It was about as high as her naturally child-sized waist, and was in the form of non other than a charming dollhouse-a brand new one to be exact!
    Excitedly, she turned to get a better look at the lovely miniature architecture-only to be greeted with both a disappointing and estranged feeling: the dollhouse was gone.

    How could this be? It appeared so real, so three-dimensional. Perhaps it was a trick of the lights? A mischievous phantom? She fancied, in her little mind, that the only other explanation was that she was dawning on cabin-fever and that it'd be a matter of hours when she'd resort to cannibalism. She mused at the thought of chasing Nanny like a fox after a ferret, but questioned her own logic nonchalantly.
    Holding the glass to her face again, the dollhouse reentered her vision, at the same spot as it had been before. Her heart skipped a beat. This was more than a little curious to be certain. Was this indeed real, or some kind of cruel hallucination?
    She turned her combing mirror ever slightly until it was barely in her vision, and her bedroom could be seen from the corner of her naked eye. She blinked, looking towards where the dollhouse ought to be-and again it had vanished. The reflective glass told another story. Doubting herself, but enchanted all the same, she watched the reflection, fixated on the damning toy as she was practically one her toes, edging slowly until she crossed the threshold into her bedroom.
    Now, she squatted downward and let her free arm move about, using the reflection to awkwardly navigate her arm towards the object until she felt her fingers brush against it. Feeling as though it might escape from her touch, she pinched the chimney tightly, and turned around.

    This time, the dollhouse remained, physically present for her to gaze at it's fine detail. She flicked the latch on the side of the object and let it's contents treat her beaming eyes.
    Inside, the house was of all sorts of beautiful pastel colors and materials. Wooden doors the perfect size for fairies, stained glass windows, and even glossy meals rested on the dinner table. The little dolls themselves were excellently crafted, with unscathed china faces and arms inside velvet garments. A man doll sat in his armchair, which, strangely rocked on it's own accord. A woman doll was bent over in the kitchen, appearing to be opening the oven. It was indeed a depiction of a grand life inside the dollhouse.

    Mary-Anne wanted to pay them a visit, but felt a bit glum there was no avatar for herself to act out within the fantasy. However, as she moved to inspect what looked like an empty cot inside a sort of playroom, something sparkled. It was a silver chain. She pulled the chain a little, finding it a little stubborn. The flap creaked a little, and something inside clacked slightly. The flap almost opened when it seemed to shut itself with shocking force.
    She sat back, astonished by the door's seemingly conscious decision to shut the world out. But the lass wouldn't have it, and pulled the chain, this time with more force than before, and it flew open. And so, two little dolls fell out of the flap and onto the floor of the dollhouse. One plopped right onto the floor of the pretend nursery, and the other rolled out onto the floor before her. It was a little girl doll. It wore white satin and lace, and it's hair bore quite a resemblance to her own strawberry-blonde curls. It was enough to give someone chills. But one can be naive.

    With that, Mary-Anne, deciding the doll represent herself, shut the doll house, and held the little doll in her hand to the door and tapped on the door.

    For a moment, her heart stopped. The rattling of the figure's hand on the door made her knuckles touch something as though she had knocked on wood. She could hear muffled whispers. There was something of a slight wailing before a prolonged pause. She went to move the doll, but looked down at her hand. There was nothing in her grasp. She found she was now standing outside where it was quite cold. She had been in her room a minute ago, her anxiety was rising like ivy. She breathed heavily in a panic before the door to the house swung open and there, she was greeted by a round white face. There, in her red velvet and black lace dress, was the woman doll.

    "Come in, child!" Said the doll, with a raspy voice with an alerted tone. "You'll catch a terrible cold in these showers!"
    Mary-Anne was quite speechless and hesitated to step inside when the doll harshly gripped her wrist and pulled her inside, slamming the door behind her. The poor child yelped with fright, not knowing how to respond correctly.
    "Enough of that," the doll scorned. "We're not savage beasts, we are models of society." Her tiny red lips crept a little at the word "models" and then fell back into her expressionless face. There was an uncomfortable pause between the two before she pointed towards the hallway. "Go and see how Lester is. He isn't well, I should suspect."
    And with that, she lifted her skirts and made haste into the kitchen.

    Mary-Anne was, quite frankly, dumbfounded by the whole thing. One moment ago, she was expecting amusement, and now, she was startled and confused all the same. She pondered if she might escape, but the front door was locked.
    She stepped timidly into the hallway and smelled something burning. Somewhat concerned, she stepped forward to investigate a possible housefire when to her own relief, it was simply the fireplace. The man doll, Lester, as he was titled, reclined in his green velvet vest, with a bucket between his legs as his chair rocked to and fro.
    "Wazzat? Miriam, is that you?" He barked, with a sort of slur, before leaning forward and made a horrid wretching sound into the bucket that made Mary-Anne gag somewhat. She moved to his view, and found he wiped not vomit from his lips, but sawdust. He had a peanut shaped head with thick eyebrows and mustache that could brush all of the food that went past his lips.

    "Eh? Who're you, girl? You're not Julie. Speak up! I can't hear you over the...the..uh..." He picked up the maroon bottle next to the seat and took what sounded like a swig, before sighing with glee.
    "I..I am.." Mary-Anne began before the raspy voice of the female in the kitchen chortled,
    "Dinner is ready! Hurry up, or I'll leave it for the crows!"
    "You'd really do that, wouldn't you, you horrible cow!" Lester called out before creaking upright.
    And so to dinner they went, it was satisfactory enough, in between Lester and who would later be discovered to be called Miriam in their squabbles over anything that could be squabbled over. Politics. Haircuts. Occasionally, Mary-Anne herself was the subject between them.
    "Another stray?" He said, eying her half out of curiosity and half discontent.
    "Another what? Please Lester, you musn't be rude." Miriam clucked under her breath, scooping more potato salad for herself.
    "Ain't like the last one." He coughed.
    "Last one?" Mary-Anne repeated, but Miriam shooed her question away. "Have some tea. We adore tea!"
    "I don't." Lester grumbled before leaning in on the girl, starting to rest his head on her chest, snoring before Miriam smacked his shoulder. He snorted and sat upright.

    Dinner was done, and Mary-Anne was still not at all at ease. There was no reason to be, she was in a strange house where the dolls behaved like a genuine married couple. They reminded her of her schoolmate's parents and how argumentative they had been. She went to excuse herself when from above, there was a sudden high pitched screeching. Mary-Anne was doubled over, letting out a small scream herself as she held her ears. It soon died down, which the girl was internally more than thankful for.

    "The baby's awake." Miriam scoffed. "Go up and take care of 'im." She pointed at Mary-Anne. "Quickly! I'm tired and the plum pie is yet ready. Go, now!"
    She said the last part with a very violent tone that even Lester flinched before taking another nap in his seat at the dining table.

    Up, up the flight of stairs. She felt her legs grow tired and each time she felt as though she'd made it up to the top, she looked up to find she was again at the bottom of the stairs. It was quite frustrating, she'd been "up" the stairs at least four times. This time, she focused only on the wall at the top of the stairs that she could see. She refused to blink, as she held her arms out, and then touched the wallpaper. Relieved, she made her way into the nursery. It was as you'd expect for an infant. Baby blue walls with a clean floor, toys neatly stacked and books of color were piled nicely. The baby doll rested silently. It was snow white, with dark cherry lips, black lines that seemed to be painted on to indicate it's eyelids.
    It had a small dent in it's head. Was it dead?

    "Of course not," the girl rationed, though without much confidence. "Dolls don't breathe." She felt that she'd like to examine the wellbeing of the child. She lifted him up. And froze.
    It was hot and sticky on the baby doll's back. She lifted the doll slowly and could now see what appeared to be blood, pooling in the mattress. She breathed in a panic again as the baby doll began to feel extremely heavy, her head ached, her face was hot. She wanted to scream, but felt it being choked down by tiny hands. She wanted to cry, but her eyes felt cold and glassy. She went to hold the infant to her face when she heard a banging above. She flinched, and to her own disbelief, dropped the baby doll. She went to stop his descent, and found the baby out of her reach, and upon hitting the ground, it's head cracked. Red fluid, darker than blood, oozed from the crack and into the floor beneath it's body. Panicking now, Mary-Anne looked around, bumping into the book shelf, looking up to stop a book from falling onto the questionable corpse when she saw it. The silver chain.

    She wasn't nearly tall enough to grasp it in her hands. She uneasily climbed upon the cot and through a leap of faith, grasped the chain, and the flap opened. This time however, a ladder dropped down, crunching against the floor. She wanted to leave the nursery, and scrambled up into the attic.

    It was cold. Dusty. She looked around the monochrome room, and felt herself feeling cold with each step. She also felt numb. Perhaps she would freeze to death up here. Her breath was short, her lips ached. She thought she'd be able to catch her breath, but as she sat, she looked at her trail of footprints in the dirty floorboards. She noticed her ringlets seemed to have fallen out, and felt her scalp. It was bare, smooth, and ice cold. She turned her neck, very stiff now, to find a tall cabinet. She crawled, very weakly now, and opened the doors. She grasped, as quickly as her aching arms allowed her, at some photo frames before dropping to the floor. She felt as though she were shrinking. She saw a photo of a boy with dark red lips and brown curls. Another photo frame, now barely visible had a young lady with black hair tied with a ribbon who looked very solemn. And finally, the last photo frame, which had an image recognizable to herself. That it was herself! She couldn't think as to why the dollhouse would have a picture of her. She couldn't think anymore as a matter of fact. And quietly, she drifted to sleep.

    Some time passed.

    "Another one already?" Lester said as his footsteps declared his approach.
    "Aye." Miriam nodded. "Looks like we've another to join our little family." With that, she scooped Mary-Anne up, looking quietly at all of the photographs and putting them back into the tall cabinet.
    "You couldn't let it go." Lester sighed with a bear grumble. Miriam turned to him with protest in her voice.
    "Do you know how it feels?" She hissed. "To be dry as a bone?"
    With these words, she carried her new daughter down the stairs, and placed her into the cot, where she slept soundlessly.

    And there, the little girl who was quite bored, was bored once again. For she felt quite awake inside her china skin. But she couldn't move. Occasionally she would get a word out, but the wretched doll woman would swat her, threatening to shatter her. And Lester would be in another room, working on some clay. "A little fat bloke, this time." He sighed. The thundering sounds of footsteps.
    "I must protect you." Miriam wept.
    "Leave her in the crib, you crazy b***h!"
    "I cannot. She'll never grow."

    So, Mary Anne was left in a crib inside of the cold, dreary attic. But with her last thread of will, she rolled. And rolled. Finally, the attic door flew open. She prepared herself.