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Fractured

Click. Click. Click.

The sound echoed through the empty streets. They had no choice but to travel while the paths were abandoned, lest their arrival be less than welcome. If they were to end up being hated as soon as they arrived in town, what good would that be for business? No. . .If they wanted to make it work in this new place, they would need to be discrete. They wanted—they needed a new life with no accidents. The man looked down at the sleeping child in the arms of his other children and sighed. He hated to admit it but he didn’t trust them with her. He had wanted to carry her himself but his cane and decommissioned arm made it a little harder for him. She was so fragile now, so extremely delicate; he hadn’t wanted to take the chance of accidentally hurting her.

She hadn’t spoken—had scarcely made any sound— since she had been with him. She had woken a few mornings later and examined herself in the mirror, and she had wept silently for everything that she had lost. Shock. He tried to convince himself over and over again every day. She’s just in shock.

He stopped, glancing at the building in front of them. They had finally arrived, and, as he unlocked the heavy front door, he began to smile lightly. The place seemed to be spacious and he began to have hope that this life would be better. It would take some time to get everything stocked again, he knew, but it would pay off in the end. He hadn’t had time to bring anything over, so he had no costumes, no machinery, no supplies. This time, though, they wouldn’t have to leave. He had bought the place the day everything had gone wrong; expansion had already crossed his mind and he had finally decided to try, negotiating prices with different people in different areas. He had found this place and was given a chance to take a small tour throughout the first three rooms. He had fallen in love with it the moment he had stepped inside. That day he had returned to his small-town shop with the keys to a new property and a group of kids trying to start problems.

“Stay here.” He warned, heading to check out the rest of the place. They had never specified what the place had been before, but from the looks of some of the rooms he had seen, it didn’t look like it had been very pleasant. It took longer than he liked to find a room to keep the girl; at the end of the second hall, he found a door that seemed almost hidden, sheltered in the shadows cast by the dim light fixtures. It had been some sort of sanitation room, with its sterile white walls and concrete floor. A marbled white table stretched the length of the far wall and was the only furniture in the room.

He glided back to his children. “Take whichever rooms in the second hallway that you prefer. Leave the last door alone, and you,” he pointed to the one holding the girl. “You come with me.” He lead them back to the room and had her lain on the table. “I’m sorry, dear. I never meant for this to happen to you.” He stumbled to her side and placed his hand over hers in what he hoped was comfort. “I thought that I could take your pain. I thought I could take your sorrow and give you a chance at rebirth. I see now that I was foolish in believing I would be successful.”

A strong, almost painful, tug in his stomach sent him to his knees. He gagged, nauseated by the unseen hand that gripped him. His breath faltered and his heart beat just a little harder against the cage that was his chest. “I’ll. . .I’ll leave you then.” He choked, struggling his way to his feet. The figure behind him dropped down to help and they crawled their way out of the room. It pained the man. She had seemed like such a cheerful and accepting child. He hadn’t wanted to see her get hurt. Persuading the others to abandon their mission hadn’t been an option, so he had done the only thing that he knew to do. He told her about a place that his children should never have thought to look. Then again, he was sure they had seen his affection for her when he had introduced himself. It was likely that they had looked harder for her, checking places they would normally pass up.

He had, at least, managed to save some semblance of her. Pulling them away from her had been easy. Taking her pieces to his craft room had been easy. Putting her together again? That had been a new challenge entirely. He had set immediately to remaking her pieces, though he wanted to wait to replace them when she had healed from her injuries a bit. He had broken down one of his mannequins then and crafted the parts that the girl had needed. Due to the events that transpired that night, and the mention of the missing children within the next day, he had been given no choice but to attach them right then and move them all from the area. The screams and whines that had escaped her still echoed in his mind and haunted his sleep.

He shook his head as he sat down in the room that would become his sewing room and sighed. Thinking terrible thoughts like that did him no good. In the morning, he thought, he would make a day of touring the town and gather supplies that he would need.

*

Business is booming better than I thought it would be. He thought to himself. He hadn’t wanted to take the chance of involving someone else and having another incident, so to save himself some time and money, he had commissioned his children to help him run the place. They were to work the registers and he was to worry about what the customers were looking for and making the merchandise. “If anything and I mean anything goes the least bit wrong today, you’ll spend the rest of your days as costume displays.” He had threatened.

“I’m sorry to bother you, sir.” A voice quipped lightly beside him, breaking him out of his reverie.

He turned and beheld the boy with a smile. “You’re no bother at all! What can I help you find?”

“Well, um, actually sir, I’m not looking for a costume. I was wondering if maybe you’re lookin’ for some help around here?”

His heart gave a stricken flutter. “You mean to inquire if I’m hiring?”

“Yes, sir!” He dropped his gaze as he explained. “You see, don’t nobody wanna hire me. I’m not legal working age yet but I’m an honest good worker and I give my word I’ll never be late! I was hoping to have some luck with you since your store just opened and all.”

The handle of his cane croaked under the pressure of his grip. “I’m sorry but there are no jobs available.”

“Sir, not to be rude or anythin’, but you just opened a week ago’n’ there are people in costumes runnin’ the registers! I could be a good help, honest! I won’t ask for much pay, just enough to get by—.”

“I’m afraid I have no need for your assistance. Good day to you.”

“But, sir—.”

“That is enough, young man! I do not need any assistance from anyone else and I assure you that I do not need you! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have customers that need my attention!” He stomped off, leaving the boy alone and tearful. A feeling of unrest began to grow deep in the pit of his chest, growing to give him a migraine. The girl seemed to be growing stronger, though he was confused about how she had learned how to pull the energy out of him. Her body was still so fragile and she had yet to say a word to him. He had tried to apologize to her repeatedly about everything that had happened but she seemed to be stuck inside her trauma, refusing to acknowledge him; except for those overwhelming pains she gave to him. How was it that this scared little child was going stronger?

“I’ve felt your discomfort all day, Erin. Is there something that you need?” He was met with silence once more. He knew that she had no real need to eat, one of the perks of drawing power from him. He thought maybe there was a part of her that hadn’t quite fully let go of that need yet; he left without a word and called the nearest restaurant from the landline that had been abandoned by the register. He’d have one of his children take it to her when it arrived.

He confined himself to his sewing room then, determined to make as many pieces as he could before time to open again. The past week had gone surprisingly well for him; there was steady business every day and he had made enough off of his grand opening that he had been able to buy a couple of cheap sewing machines and better materials. Though he knew he still had months before he would be where he wanted to be, he knew that it was a starting point and he was grateful.

Every day for the next three weeks, the boy came to the shop and tried to convince the man to hire him. “I’m a good worker, honest!” He would say. “I learn real quick and you’ll never get a bad word ‘bout me!” Occasionally, he would mention, “I tidy up honest good, sir! You won’t have to worry ‘bout nothin’ but lockin’ the doors come closin’ time.”

Every day was the same answer: “I have all the help I need.” He was resigned to dealing with it as long as he had to if it meant that the boy stayed out of harm’s way.

The man has come back from inspecting some property damage a customer had mentioned when he noticed the child. He readied himself for the normal barrage of pleas but stopped short when he noticed a woman walk up to the child. He couldn’t say what made him stop. Perhaps the boy’s promises had stuck with them, and then again, perhaps he simply wanted some proof. He caught something about a party that was being thrown within the next few days and she gave him a vague description of what she had been wanting. The boy wasted no time in taking her around, giving her honest opinions and suggestions on the things that she pointed out. Once she was satisfied, he directed her to the register and thanked her for choosing to shop there. The boy turned and the man was sure that he was searching for him, but he was stopped once more by someone asking for some guidance.

He helped them all with no complaint, a charming smile plastered on his face to ease everyone’s nerves. The man had to admit that he was impressed with the child’s temperament.

“I’m glad he found something to do with himself. I always knew he was a good boy.”

He turned to find two young mothers standing off to the side, their children gripped firmly in their hands as they shopped.

“Then why was he always in so much trouble?”

“The poor thing’s mother died, Trish! It’s just him and his brother now. The system won’t even get involved anymore because they know the boys’ll just run away from whatever home they’re sent to. Mercy was a special person. Of course, they won’t accept anyone else.”

“You know, I can’t say I blame them. Mercy was special to all of us. If you love them so much, why haven’t you taken them in yourself? Mercy was your neighbor after all.”

“Oh, gods no.” She cried, giving a small chuckle. “I have two of my own to worry about, I don’t think I can handle four, especially the way they are.”

“Poor things, how do they afford their food?”

Silence. The two shared a glance as if they hadn’t thought of that before.

So that was why the boy seemed so set on having a job? He was alone, caring for the last bit of family that he had left? He turned, making his way over to the boy and the woman that he had been helping. “I apologize miss, but I must pull your advisor away for a moment. Young man, follow me please.”

The boy whipped around. “Oh! Uh, yes, sir!” He apologized to the woman himself and joined the man at the back of the store.

“What’s your name, son?”

“Nash, sir.” he quipped. “Nash Tucker. I’m sorry sir, honest, but this real nice lady needed some help ‘n then this man, and they all just kinda flocked me一.”

“Calm down, Nash, you’re not in trouble! I saw the way you interacted with them, and I have to say that I am very impressed. You proved that you were right, perhaps I do need you, and if you still wish to work for me, I am willing to employ you.”

The boy smiled and reached his hand out; as the man accepted it, Nash shook it viciously. “Thank you, sir, really thank you! You won’t have no regrets, honest!”

“Alright, alright, calm down. I’ll give you two days to get some good rest. Be back here early, seven in the morning to help open up the shop. I’ll plan out your pay and your job duties by then.” The boy nodded his agreement and turned away only to swing back for one last comment. “Thank you Mr.一wait, I don’t think I ever got your name?”

“Ellis.” The man nodded with a smile. “Ellis Hyde. I’ll see you in two days.”

Two days passed and Nash appeared at seven o’clock on the dot, just as he had promised. Ellis unlocked the door and swung it wide for the boy to come inside, having cautioned his children earlier to leave the boy alone. He lead him around the first hallway, showing him what each room was and where they were located, explaining his role to him. He took him back to the front of the store and assigned him his first task. The man hadn’t managed to clean everything before he had decided to open the shop, so he wrote out a list on the back of a receipt and told the boy to come to find him once he had finished.

“I don’t have a very strict personality,” Ellis admitted. “But I do have rules and I have my rules for a reason. Do not break any of these rules or you will be shown out at once, do you understand me?” The boy nodded and he continued. “One, do not ever stand in the store alone. If there are no customers to assist, then you will come to the sewing room or else my office and stay with me. I have a bell that rings in every room when someone enters, so you’ll know when to go back.

“Two, you will leave promptly at nine o’clock every night. If you bring anything with you to work and it is left, you will not be allowed back into the store to retrieve it. Simply call the store and let me know what you’ve left behind and I will keep it safe for you.”

The boy nodded but held a finger out, asking for a moment. “Why do you close the doors an hour early?”

“I close the doors at ten o’clock so I can spend some time doing inventory and finishing paperwork for the day. I would rather do that during the night hours when no one is around to distract me.”

“Yes, sir, I understand. Your last rule, Mr. Hyde?”

“My last rule is this: you are forbidden to explore the second hallway. Those rooms are damaged and in the process of being renovated. I wouldn’t want you to fall into a hole and get hurt.” Or find the broken girl I’ve hidden from humanity and my army of glass children. He sighed to himself.

The boy agreed and began his tasks immediately, thanking the man the last time for giving him a job. He worked hard, indeed, always scrubbing or picking up trash when there were no customers to check out. Ellis had been worried that the boy might forget his rules since it was the first day but received a pleasant surprise when a light tap came at the sewing room door and Nash’s head popped in. “I’m sorry to bother, sir. All the customers have gone.” So there he sat with the man, watching as he worked and reworked his fabrics into elaborate dresses and shirts. After he had observed the man for a few hours, he asked to be given some scraps to make his own creation. Ellis had never seen anyone else’s creative process so he agreed in a moment of curiosity. He was pleasantly surprised to find the boy making a mask, making jokes about how he just might set it on the walls to sell.

When the bell rang, the boy hopped from his chair and ran to the storefront to greet the new arrivals. It was all so completely new and strange, but the man couldn’t say that he minded the company. He had never worked so close with anyone, had never tried to build a relationship with someone else. He knew why, of course, but the cold hard logic of it all would never dull the feeling of isolation that set in and ate at him. It was peaceful, working with the boy like that, and he found himself wishing that he had done something like this at his old store. Sometime around noon, Ellis closed the store so that the boy could go have lunch on his dime, and offered to pay for a plate for the boy’s brother as well.

They worked that way for the next four months. The boy was never late, worked increasingly harder every day, and always left with a full belly and a plate for his brother. He never broke a rule either. He stayed away from the second hallway, never even attempting to ask questions about it; he always promptly left at nine o’clock every night and left nothing that he might be concerned over later; he always spent a few hours with Ellis throughout the afternoons when business was at its slowest. The work arrangement eventually became more of a daily routine that they thoroughly enjoyed. Every day, he asked Ellis for his scraps and made something of his own, no matter how rough in theory it may be. He never grew angry at a customer’s sour attitude and Ellis had, indeed, never had a bad word about the boy in his service.

Nash began to improve his crafting skills, and eventually, he was allowed to help the man with costumes that he planned to sell. As their time together progressed, they began to open up about their pasts, their paths, and what they had enjoyed most about their lives. Ellis learned a lot about the boy, and in turn, the boy developed a child-like attachment to the man. He was the closest to a father that the boy had ever had, and he grew ever more grateful that he was allowed to work at his side as the days passed. He told the man of the hardships he had been through after losing his mother to cancer. He told him of the father that had left the day the youngest son had been born. He told him of the desperation he had felt trying to find a way to provide for his brother; they were both sickly, having been finding food from dumpsters and sleeping in abandoned houses on the block. The bank had taken theirs when Mercy had died and no one else had been willing to take them in; they all had their own problems, why would they want to add two strange children to the mix?

In turn, Nash received constant attention and guidance; the man never opened up about his own past but he made the conversations worthwhile. Ellis taught the boy the basics of costume making as he had learned them. He taught the boy all the things that his father had not. He never answered questions about the arm that hung at his side or about the cane that he always kept. The boy had noticed the slight limp, but never questioned it, knowing he would never get an honest answer, if he was given an answer at all. As their happiness and comfort in each other grew, so did an odd sickness that struck the man. It had been nothing at first, a few aches and pains every once in a while. The most severe it had been as of that moment was the jerking pain that dug itself into his stomach and sickened him. As time passed, it became harsh migraines that would last for days on end, it became constant aches and pains that never seemed to subside. All the while, someone seemed to be sneaking to the back and breaking his mannequins. He received constant recounts of piles of porcelain or broken appendages whenever customers used the dressing rooms, and he had set Nash on the lookout for the culprit. However, after two months, they still hadn’t found who was responsible.

The piles of pieces became whole mannequins and the headaches became nose bleeds. Nash grew more worried for his friend every day, begging the man to see a doctor. Ellis always refused, knowing in the depths of his mind that his illness had nothing to do with a virus he might have caught. He began to rely more on his cane, his limp worsening and his body becoming weaker than it had been in years.

One evening, as the boy was announcing the departure of the last customer, a coughing fit erupted from the man’s chest; it wracked his body and stole his breath. Blood poured from his nose and stained his lips and hands as it rose from his lungs. He waved away the child’s help and tried to stand on his own; he lost his balance as another cough burst forth and fell to his side on the hard concrete. They had to wait for the spasms to subside for Nash to be able to help the man to his feet. He assured the boy that he was alright and took himself to the bathroom to clean his face and hands.

On his way, he noticed a large pile of mannequins crumbled at Erin’s door. He sighed and continued on. He would have to send the boy home early and deal with whatever tantrum the girl had decided to pull. Through all of his interactions with Nash, Ellis had not once let maintenance of the girl dwindle or dissipate. He began to wonder if it had possibly been her that had caused this sickness inside him to develop and grow. He cleaned himself the best he could and returned to the boy.

“I apologize, Nash, but you’re going to have to go home early. You shall still receive a full paycheck, though; I’m not going to punish you for my faults.”

“Are you sure you’re okay, Mr. Hyde? I can stay a little later if you need me to.”

“No.” he snapped, shaking his head sternly. “You must go, now preferably. I’ll show you to the door.” The man struggled to escort the boy but refused to accept help. Apologizing a last time, he opened the store’s door and ushered the boy out into the street.

He struggled his way back to Erin’s door and bent. He sighed as he dropped to his knees, pushing the sleeve of his shirt up and raising his arm. He gripped the cane tighter as the hand began to tremble and shake; instead of picking up the pieces of shattered porcelain, his fist fell hard into the pile, breaking the pieces more. He didn’t一couldn’t stop until the pieces had been turned to dust underneath the strength of his blows. He knew that he could make them again, so he grieved not for the loss of his children, but more for the loss of his humanity. A sharp, piercing pain shot through him, gripping him harshly and upending him. He gagged, having nothing in his stomach to bring back up, and wished that it would somehow end.

A large crash in the storefront alerted him to a new presence. He struggled to his feet, forcing the fit down. He heard the clicks of their glass steps against the concrete, a flood of small delicate thumps resonating through the building until the sound disappeared. A terrorized scream rang out through the building and Ellis cursed, breaking into as much of a run as he could possibly manage. Ahead, he saw them, all his children searching and running around, trying to get their hands on the intruder. Turning to find the source of another large crash, he beheld the boy that had woken them; he had forgotten to lock the door when he had escorted the boy out. “Leave!” He bellowed, stumbling to a halt. “Leave now!” The dolls stopped, jerking their heads toward the man. He slid between them and ran to the boy, grabbing him roughly by the back of the neck. “What did I tell you? What did I tell you about coming back? It was a rule, Nash!” He yelled, hurt by the boy’s disobedience.

“I’m sorry, sir! I didn’t mean to break the rules!” He screamed as a hand reached towards him, shrinking back against the man. Ellis growled and raised his arm, snatching the thing by the wrist and shattering it. The porcelain rained to the floor and the creature stepped back.

“I said, leave!” He growled again, shoving them back and pulling the boy through with him to the doorway. “Why the hell did you come back?”

“I left the food I got for my brother! I can’t let him go hungry while I ate!”

“You should have called! I would have brought it out to you!”

“But, sir, you’re sick ‘n all!”

He glared at the boy as he pulled him closer to the back. “It does not matter that I am sick because now you’ve killed yourself and your brother both! Who’s going to take care of your brother now that you’re stuck here with me?”

The boy’s eyes filled with tears but Ellis gave him no time to cry. He jerked him into the nearest door he could find, closing it quickly一as quietly as he could一so his children would walk straight by. He hadn’t thought of it before, but having his creations unresponsive to his commands made him realize with a start what had really been happening over the last few months. “What’do’ya you mean?” The boy choked, staring the man down. “What’s happenin’?”

“I don’t have the time to explain everything, so I’ll make this simple.” Thus, he launched into a short explanation of what he could do, what had happened all those months ago, and about the little girl that he had tried to save. He then told him his theory on the things that were happening at that moment, and what had been happening for a while. The boy said nothing, watching the man with a blank expression. “Now, I found an exit at the back a few days ago. I’ve got the key, I’m going to get you there. You’re going to leave and you’re not to look back. Additionally, you’re not going to come back tomorrow, understand? Stay away and let me handle this.” The boy nodded and Ellis opened the door, pulling him along.

Mannequins crowded the hall, turning the corner into the second hallway and blocking the way to Erin’s door. Ellis used his left arm and destroyed every creature that dared to throw itself at them, slowly paving his way through to the door before Erin’s. He handed Nash the key, ordering him to run the first chance he got and began working the numbers down. He did well at playing it safe and breaking them until he made it to the girl’s door. A mannequin had been waiting inside, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. It broke out as he passed and sunk its fingers into his shoulder, shredding his skin and staining his shirt; he cried out and shattered its hand, shoving it to the ground and bringing his foot down hard on its legs. They shattered and it writhed as if in pain; he shoved the boy towards the door and threw himself at the others. The one in the doorway drug itself over to him and, when his back was turned to it completely, it sank its fingertips into both of his legs, bringing him down as well.

Nash turned back for only a moment, unlocking the door and bolting out into the night. Ellis sighed, happy that the boy hadn’t gotten hurt, and jerked his legs away from the creature. His pants ripped, exposing the holes the creature had chipped in his porcelain leg. Blood poured from the human leg, its fingers having ripped the skin as he pulled himself away. He swung and fought at the others, trying to break as much of them as he could. As he fought them off, he struggled his way over to Erin’s door, trying to pull himself inside and lock them out.

As he pulled himself up and threw himself against the door, the worst coughing fit he had ever experienced hit him. He fell to his knees as the lock slid into place and clawed at his throat, the coughs ripping his throat apart inside. His stomach rolled and his head spun lightly; no matter how hard he tried in between those harsh barks, he could not catch his breath. He forced it down, taking a deep gasp and holding the air in his lungs. He managed only two more before the fit took him over again.

“It hurts, doesn’t it?”

He sucked in a breath and looked up at the table; there she sat, staring at him in cold curiosity. She no longer seemed pale and sickly, though she still seemed so small and delicate. “Erin? You’ve regained your voice?” He was astonished.

“Dying is the most unpleasant experience I think I’ve ever had. I never expected to have to live through that at such an age.”

“Erin, please do not think wrongly of what I say next, but how are you able to do this? Why are you destroying your siblings and attacking me?”

“My siblings?” She scoffed, rolling her eyes. “You really expect me to be overjoyed that you saved me? You’re the reason that I almost died, Ellis! I thought you were nice, I thought you were a good man! You knew that my sister and her friends were planning on sneaking in that night, didn’t you?” He stayed silent, blood spilling from his lips with the force of the fit plaguing him. “Didn’t you!” She screamed again, easing his suffering only enough for him to croak a harsh, “Yes”. “You knew they were going to sneak in and you knew what your freak mannequin children would do to them! You didn’t say anything to them, you never warned them at all! And what did you do for me, huh? You told me to go hide in a closet that they came straight for. You didn’t save me, you made it easy for them to find me.”

She climbed down from the table and stood watching him. He could feel the heat of the hatred scalding him as she glared, reliving the memory again and again. “They tore me apart!” She screamed, and he noticed for the first time how her body trembled, how she held herself to one side. He had never realized how much pain she had been in since they had found her. He noticed the tears that flooded her eyes, threatening to spill down her pale cheeks. “They dug their fingers into my skin and they ripped me open like I was plastic packaging! Do you understand the pain that I felt? Wanna know what’s worse?” She laughed. “They didn’t kill me. You swooped in just in time, the big bad hero come to save the day. Trust me, the pain I felt having my skin peeled off could never compare to the pain of you fusing my skin back together with porcelain.”

He winced away from her comment, her words a dagger in his heart. “I was trying to help you! They weren’t supposed to find you there!”

“But they did and they gutted me like a fish, and you made it so much worse!” She screamed, and somewhere in the hall, he heard an explosion of glass. She had let her anger swell, affecting the mannequins to the point they shattered from the energy shift. “Did you think I wouldn’t notice? Did you think they wouldn’t come and show me? You were going to do it again! You were going to do it all over again with that boy that you hired! You tortured me, so now I get to torture you. It’s only fair.” She knelt down, hugging her arms to her sides. His fit worsened, his body quaking with every cough. It started at his toes, slowly numbing them. He took no notice at first, focused on the bruising of his lungs until it began to burn. His body ached and writhed and blistered as if she had doused him in the flames of hell and, tearing at his clothes to examine the attacks, he found that the porcelain of his broken leg had spread. It had consumed his left leg and spread up his waist, and as he fought his fit down he watched it spread up onto his torso. She was slowly turning him to glass.

“Erin, no! Stop this at once, do you hear me! Do you understand what you’re doing?” He tried to lecture her through the coughs that battered him, pulling himself towards the door to leave. His body was losing strength, becoming heavier as the cancer spread. She said nothing, mumbling instead to herself, her words jumbled together in incomprehensible sentences. It spread to his chest, then his arms, and finally began to creep up his neck. He sucked in one last pitiful breath, drowning in anguish as it covered his head. Seeing his statue there made no difference to her; he had yet to suffer as she had. Her voice became frantic and hushed. Her sentences all ran together until, with a primal, raw scream, she threw her head back and dug her nails into what skin she had left. Cracks splintered through his stricken body and as if fuel for some unseen fire, the porcelain seemed to explode into a powdered glass. His shards rained across the room, sticking to her hair and shoulders like a thick layer of snow.

She leaned against the wall then, letting her tears fall freely for the first time since she had woken from her surgery. She wondered where she would go, who would take her in and care for her? Her sister was dead, and her sister’s friends were dead. She had no idea how to get back to her home. She coughed, rubbing away the pain that bloomed in her chest. Perhaps the man had left his wallet around somewhere, then she could at least find something to eat! She struggled to her feet, body still sore from the parts he had attached, and stumbled to the door. She stopped, planting her hand firmly on the wall and taking a moment to let out a harsh fit of coughing. Why was she coughing this bad? Had she somehow managed to get sick? Maybe it was a withdrawal symptom from feeding off of his abilities.

She almost missed them, but she could faintly hear the tap of heels of business shoes on the concrete outside. Who would be coming into the shop at that hour? She wanted to check yet wanted to hide simultaneously, but the force of her fits made it impossible for her to move. Before her stepped a man, lightly swinging the door to the side with a smirk. “What did you honestly expect, child? You’ve been drawing off of this man’s energy for months now and refused to develop one of your own. You’ve just murdered the only thing that was keeping you alive!” He doubled with laughter, amused with her ignorance. “Stupid little girl. You’ll get everything back that you gave.” The girl stared at this stranger, this shadow of a man, and retreated to the table she had come from. His aura was so twisted and burnt that even she, the remnants of a human child, could tell that nothing good came from his presence. He was the spawn of something borne in cruel, sadistic chaos, something that existed so far below in abysses so deep that light had never kissed its face. Why he was here she had no clue, but she definitely didn’t want him around her.

He stood leaning against the doorframe as she dissolved into a stronger coughing fit. Her breath became harder and harder to catch and she sank down onto her side. It pierced her like a dagger, spreading like poison through her veins. She looked down at her hands to find them glistening in the light, completely porcelain. He watched as the virus infected her, covering her body in that hard gleaming shell. Her body burned inside with the anger and hatred she had let devour her; a cry of pure rage roared from her as glass rose and covered her face. The man chuckled and sauntered his way through the room. “I meant everything, little girl.” He picked her body up, throwing it hard to the ground. Her body shattered against the concrete, the sharp clatter pleasing to him. He whistled and walked out to find a broom, sweeping the pieces of both bodies into a pile.

He whistled lightly as he closed his eyes and held a piece in his hands, concentrating on what the man had been in his entirety. Ever so slowly, the pieces began to rock and tremble, sliding across the floor to slip themselves together. Ellis was rebuilt piece by piece; after his corpse had been reassembled, the man whistled his way over, taking his face in both hands and holding it close to his own. He took a breath and lightly blew it into the other’s face, breathing the life back into him.

Ellis took a deep, gasping breath and fell back away from him. “What is一who are you? How did you get in here, where am I?” He questioned frantically, scooting away from the man and glancing around to regain his bearings.

“You never left the store, don’t worry. You don’t remember your little project turning against you? You don’t remember that country twig coming back for seconds?”

It took a moment for the previous events to come flooding back to him. “Yes. . .Yes, I do remember what happened. Wait,” he struggled to his feet, grabbing his cane and moving away. “Who are you? How did you get into my store?”

“You forgot to lock the door.” He winked. “I am here, Mr. Hyde, because I know what you are and I know what you can do. I found you right before the incident at your old costume shop and I followed you here the night that you left. I have come to offer you a job, and as much as I would love to say that you are free to choose to accept or decline, I think we both know that’s not true.”

Ellis was silent for a moment, mulling over what the man had said. “You’re right. I guess I owe you for helping me一however it was that you were able. What is your name, sir? And where would I be working?”

“Forgive my lack of manners,” he grinned, eyes sharp and mischievous. “I am Ephriam Black, Ring Master of The Circus Of Fear!” He gave a low, sweeping bow, whipping his hat off his head. “I have come to recruit you and your mannequin children as our security team. I will pay generously, all you have to do is patrol. No one gets in, no one gets out. Understand?”

The man nodded, straightening and giving a small bow. “I accept, Mr. Black. Would you allow me a day to get my affairs in order?”

Nash arrived two days later. He knew that Ellis had not reached out to him, but he had a brother to feed and he desperately needed to earn some more money. The man had kept his word, paying Nash for his full shift. He had even gone a little farther and paid him for the day after the attack when he was instructed to stay away. Stalking quickly to the door, Nash was shocked to find that the lights were off and the doors locked tight. Stuck to the door with a small piece of tape was an envelope. He pulled it off, ripping the top open, and pulled out a letter.

Nash,

I apologize for leaving so suddenly and without notice. I’m terribly sorry for everything that happened to you in my service, and I regret even more the way things were explained. I have chosen to move on and take my mannequins with me. Inside the envelope with this letter I have included the key to the building. It belongs to you now, understand? Continue to practice and you’ll be selling in no time. I have left all of my merchandise for you to profit on and another shipment will be making itself to you within the next few weeks. Inside my office desk, you’ll find the paperwork you need to have the building signed over to you legally. A list of all expenses and how they are paid are among them. In the safe behind the painting are the bank cards, the account numbers, and everything that is extremely important for you to keep up with.

You were a wonderful employee, Nash, and I’m grateful that you chose me to be your boss. Thank you for your service and even more so for the companionship you extended. Do not come looking for me; I have left a gift for you inside that will assist you whenever you need me. Just tell it what you need and let it be the messenger, understand? That’s a new rule. Take care of your brother, son. I’m proud of you.

~Ellis Hyde.

The boy shook his head, ignoring the tears that stung his eyes, and dumped the key from the envelope. Though he was still shocked by the confessions Ellis had made, he couldn’t help but love the man still; he had protected him, he had given him a chance, and most importantly, he had helped keep his little brother healthy. He was glad that the man had left and taken his demons with him, but he could not deny that he would always miss spending time with him in the sewing room. Unlocking the door, he was only slightly surprised to find that every mannequin in the place had been taken, replaced with cloth human-like displays. He wandered around, every room empty of any distinguishing feature; there was no evidence that the man had ever been there at all. He examined the desk in the office and found everything as the note had informed him. He did the same with the safe. Everywhere he looked, he found traces of the man wiped away. He found no gift that had been left for him until he found his way back to the storefront. There behind the register sat a large box, wrapped in dark navy paper and a bright red bow tied around it.

He dropped to his knees and untied the ribbon, lifting the lid gently. He stumbled back as a startled cry escaped him. A small child-like mannequin unfolded itself and stood. At the sound of his cry, it lost its balance, falling back. It knocked the box to its side, falling hard to the cement with a soft tink. He rose to his knees, peering over the edge of the box. The doll threw its arms over its head as the boy’s face came into view. That’s when he realized: it was just as scared of him as he had been of it! Ellis had crafted him a harmless child, someone to keep him company and serve as a reminder of the friendship they had built. He swallowed the fear from the trauma he had experienced and picked the child up, holding it on his hip. It did nothing for a moment, seeming to observe him and examine his character. He decided that it must like him, as it laid its head on his shoulder, throwing its thin, delicate arms around his next.

He smiled, holding the child close, and chuckled. “Let’s get to work, shall we?”

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Horror

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