Thanks Chau Vuong for for giving me the inspiration to create this story

Her heart was pounding in her bosoms as she held it delicately between her tapering fingers. On first look, it was no different from a cheap-looking doll some poor mother would make for her child since she could not afford any other toys: a doll carved out from rare white wood with a crimson string blindfolding what was supposed to be its eyes. Yet for that simple piece of wood that laid in her hand she had paid dearly.

That woman who covered most of her body in black velvet had grimly spoken to her, each syllable dripping with what people would deem ‘dark art’, ‘witchcraft’. She had been warned of its consequences, of the possible dangers that might befall its owner. But she would accept them all, if it meant to fulfill her wish.

In a soft voice she chanted the verses previously received from the heretic woman. An ominous sense of misty emitted from her mumbling lips and started gathering around the doll. From beneath its silk blindfold, its eyes flared up like dying coal that caught wind. Her mouth chanting, she glanced at it from the corner of her eyes as she witnessed its coming to life with a wicked delight.

She grabbed the standing doll and cruelly twisted off its right leg.

A sharp cry.

With green eyes she looked at the girl dancing on the stage. With face like a gift from god and gracefully long legs moving swiftly and lightly as water flow, Callidora was the most precious gem in the director’s eyes. From the first day she arrived at this theater, she had already known no matter how she tried, as long as Callidora was here, the leading role would never be hers. For that she had been harboring a bitter grudge against Callidora. Though Callidora had never done her any offence, nice to her even, the girl’s mere presence was a sharp reminder that she was only a firefly and her, the splendid sun.

But not anymore, thought the envious girl as she recalled the doll’s glowing eyes and its painful cry.

Her graceful moves halted in sharp exhale of all the audiences. Their eyes glued on her right leg which, by some god-know reason, had twisted in an agonizingly unusual angle.

The director urged the crew to draw the curtains and rushed to the stage. Quickly Callidora was carried away.

The theater buzzed with the audiences’ questioning Callidora’s bizarre accident. It had been fast, too fast and no one had the faintest idea. I know, I know. She looked around to see all faces bewildered and nearly cried out in excitement. Still, being an experienced actress, she knew better to suppress her feelings.

“I think it’s time for the understudy.” She spoke with the director in confidence. She who knew all Callidora’s songs and moves.

“No need.” The director coolly waved his hand. “She’ll show up tomorrow.”

“But… didn’t you see? There’s no way her leg can recover in a night-time.”

Or a lifetime, she thought.

“She can and she will. I guarantee that. The show must go on.”

The director’s grey eyes were fixing on her. A chill ran down her spine.

Now that your rose has withered, soon you’ll have to see me with different eyes, my dearest director.

“We’ll see about that.”

She could not believe her eyes when she witnessed, the next morning, Callidora’s arrival with her right leg safe and sound. As the director had said, the show would go on and Callidora would remain the brightest star on stage.

How could it be? She growled in silence, clutching the damned doll in her hand. It had worked; she had seen the girl’s leg twist, nearly broken in half.

She was thinking about plucking the doll’s head when a familiar voice interfered.

“You’re probably wondering why my leg’s recovered so fast.”

She saw Callidora’s reflection in the mirror. Immediately she hid the doll in her bag.

She turned around, faking a smile.

“I’m a bit surprised though. It seems God must have heard our sincere prayers after all.”

“Prayers you say. For me?”

“If not you, for whom?”

“That means you prayed for me?”

Callidora closed the distance between them, at the same time, forcing her to the wall.

Never before had she experienced such pressure from Callidora’s presence. Was her normal girl-next-door’s sweetness all but a façade?

“Of course.”

Callidora smiled endearingly. “I doubt that.”

Soft breaths tickled her ears. “Prayed for me? You, the most envious of all?”

A bead of sweat rolled down her temple as she pushed Callidora away, breaking free.

“Doubt it as you like. I have no time to argue. See you on the stage.”

She intended to walk away without looking back. This is ridiculous, she chastised herself. How did I let myself be frightened by her?

Her steps halted at the sudden sing-song tone behind her.

“I’ll give you my secret. If you stay back after the curtains fall.”

Throughout the show, Callidora’s words kept ringing in her ears, disrupting her attention which should be paid to the songs and moves. Occasionally Callidora would glance at her, smiling mischievously. She tried hard to remain unfazed.

She was tempted to reach the doll and see if Callidora’s ‘secret’ could save her a second time.

In the end, her curiosity had gotten the better out of her.

She thought, briefly, that Callidora might have figured out something. Then what could she do? Surely Callidora could not denounce her as a practitioner of dark arts. Besides, what evidence did she have?

She waited patiently till the closing curtain ended and everyone else had retired for the night, till Callidora and her were the only ones left.

“So-“, the girl gave a gesture, “follow me!”

Callidora took the initial steps; she quietly followed behind, her whole being in alarm.

Perhaps, much much later, she would regret her decision that fateful day. Provided that she could.

Callidora led her to the underground passage built hundreds of years ago, together with the theater. There laid a huge, old-styled chamber they used as a storage for the all the broken props and costumes. She knew of it but never actually came down to pay a visit.

“Here we are.” Callidora pushed open the heavy-looking door.

She looked at it dubiously. “Why are we here?”

“I said I’d let you know, didn’t I? Just come in.”

Soon as she stepped in, she was in perplexity. As she scanned the chamber, she hardly found any props or costumes. Instead, the only thing she saw was… human parts. A few legs here, some arms there. She even found some torsos, both male and female, dangling right above her head.

Light reflecting on their skin proved them to be mere plastic. Chill curled in her blood nevertheless.

Behind her Callidora closed the door.

She had never heard about the chamber being a mannequin workshop.

“I brought her here.” Callidora suddenly raised her voice.

Footsteps echoed from behind tall shelves, footsteps in sync with her heartbeats.

“She’s quite a cunning one, isn’t she?”

She knew this voice. Too familiar to mistake.

A face gradually became distinct- their director’s.

To him Callidora nodded and went to retrieve a leg from a shelf- twisted in an agonizingly unusual angle and nearly broken in half.

Alarm rang in her mind. Had he found out something and wanted to confront me?

“I knew you’re the one that broke her leg, Gelosia. In envy.”

“Why me? What proof you have? Sure, I may be envious of her but that doesn’t mean the others aren’t.”

“They aren’t. “ He said firmly.

Gelosia smirked, folding her arms in front of her chest.

“How can you be so sure?”

He looked at her with eyes cold and unreadable, his forefinger pointing up.  “Why don’t you take a look?”

Dubiously she shifted her gaze to the unusually tall ceiling. Dim light caused her to squint her eyes.

Up above her, hanged from the ceiling, her colleagues. Mary, Anne, Elise, Miria, all of them.

She looked at their expressionless faces and the limbs carefully placed on the myriad shelves. The dawning realization made cold sweats form in her palms.

Could it be that they… and Callidora too?

“All my creations.” He lovingly caressed Callidora’s smooth cheeks. “This one, the finest.”

“Here in my theater, we all play our roles. But you-“ He pointed his finger at her. “I had high hopes for you and now, what I got was only disappointment.”

“You never give me the reading role.” She hissed.

“I would have, if you outshined Callidora. But instead of polishing your talents, you spend most of the time envying her. That’s why I said I was disappointed.”

He took the broken leg from Callidora’s hand and hurled it at her.

“I guess… it has to be some kind of dark art. A wooden doll, perhaps.”

Her heart was throbbing in her chest.

“But I have my art as well.”

At a snap of his fingers, her ‘colleagues’ were surrounding her. Their eyes, empty and cold, stared at her as if they never knew who she was.

Did she ever know them?

“You’ll make another fine doll. Who knows, you may even outperform Callidora.”

At his promise, she could only feel terror.

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