3: The Monstress

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    The woman who was in the doorway smiled as intensely as she posed. It was a grin going beyond elegance and into gaiety. Her skin glimmered and her right arm was raised in the air as if to herald her own entrance. The dolls parted as the woman walked up to the girl, each long graceful leg stepping in front of and slightly across the other.

    The "Monstress" looked only a little older than the girl but her eyes held at least another decade of secrets. The skirt of her red dress was made with bunches of satin tied with small ribbons to vary the gathers – short in the front, long in the back. Her hair was a platinum bob with blunt bangs. For most females the cut would be an insult to their features. For the Monstress, however, it flaunted a flawless face.

    She circled the girl twice.

    "What fun we'll have!" the woman said. "You pretty thing, you don't even know how much I have to show you." She ran her hands down either side of the girl's arms and lifted them by the fingers.  "Let's leave right away - I'm going to get you all sorted out with different clothes, hair and a name!"

    Not a word of acknowledgement or command of duty was given to the dolls. It did appear to the girl, however, that they stood more rigid than before. In fact, she could almost make herself believe that she had been imagining everything they'd said and how they moved on their own. They all looked straight down into the carpet except for Scotch who—although his head was tilted downward—was looking directly at the girl. Meeting his gaze she sought for a message but only found his eyes to be challenging her.

    The girl could not find in her to assume that the woman was as dreadful as the dolls had made her out to be. After all, she barely knew the dolls and they had been suspicious of her when she had done nothing at all but materialize into their habitat. It was only fair, the girl thought, that to a degree she be equally suspicious of them and get to know the Monstress herself. Truthfully, it was nice to be whisked away from the crowded room and prying questions. But she was finding it difficult to shake off that look Scotch had given her.

    "What do I call you?" the girl asked the Monstress as they started through the halls.

    "Madame," the woman said.

    "Do you have a name?"

    "I have several. To you, it's Madame."

    Madame led the girl to a flight of stairs that went down into darkness. The girl paused, thinking of the protodoll sketches.

    "Come on, we have a little ways to go!" Madame said in a singsong voice. She pulled the girl along behind her.

    Wooden steps squawked beneath their toes. A few times the girl was certain that someone was following them, but the darkness that flowed through the halls of the Dollhouse would not allow her to see who or what it was.

    "Why is it so dark?"

    "The light doesn't like it down here."

    "Aren't you afraid of the protos?" 

    "That's why we're hurrying! Oh, we're here." Madame stopped at an unremarkable wall. By their feet was a square hatch, edges lit with golden light from beneath it. "I don't usually go this way but I figured that today's a special occasion. Everyone needs a little shaking-up!"

    When Madame lifted the hatch the bright golden light sprayed their faces. The girl's eyes were trying to adjust and make sense of what she was looking at down below when Madame squeezed her arm and pulled her through the hole.

    The fall was maybe ten feet - a fraction of a second but an eon of terror, and certainly not something the girl would have ever thought of doing to a new guest. They landed on a pile of material, one so huge she cascaded down the side of it for several yards before rolling onto the carpet. When she finally pushed herself off her face she tried to say how nauseated she was but realized she'd left her voice screaming somewhere near the hatch in the ceiling.

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