In the dark room, the girl sat atop her bed on a quilt, which was covered in squares that presented colorful dolls – her favorite blanket. She wore a blue dinner dress that she had spread out around her in every direction like a blooming flower so that it would not wrinkle. No one had come for her yet, and time was slipping by into the evening. The girl didn't complain. She enjoyed this solitude, but she was never truly alone. No; there were always so many friends to play with.
She hummed quietly to herself, ignoring the snowflakes that gently kissed at her window only to be shunned by the selfish heat within. The girl was unaware of her simple beauty – completely oblivious of her ripe young body and her soft, pleasant skin. She had no need for concern over those things, for she would never grow up. She would never be like them, and somehow, she knew that.
Laying down the toy soldier she'd been marching across the quilt, she picked up a pretty doll whose name was Madeline.
"If you want to marry her, you'll have to go to war, Edmond," the girl said. "Every girl wants a strong soldier to protect her."
There was silence in the room for a few moments, and she held the soldier up and made the female doll prance around him beautifully.
"You can make your claims all you want," the girl scolded as if the soldier had spoken to her, "but she won't believe you unless you go to war."
More silence followed her insistence, and the child trapped in a young woman's body set Madeline down carefully and held the soldier up close to her face. She gave him a look of disapproval.
"What do you mean, you're afraid? You should have thought of that before you became a soldier! If you don't fight, you'll be looked on as a traitor by your country and you'll be executed. I'd hate to see that happen to you, Edmond."
The girl looked at the doll, and after a moment in the stillness, she closed her eyes and a small smile spread across her lips.
"I'm glad you made that decision. Madeline is glad too." The girl pulled the soldier and the doll close to her chest and hugged them tightly.
The voices were silent. Within the wall, a rat was scratching.
The Nutcracker Bleeds
Snow Globe Drama
The winter was upon London harshly that year, the snow flakes coming down in hundreds at once like confetti with occasional streamers blowing past. All this, and even with Christmas swiftly approaching, the man's room was neglected – abandoned for almost two months now.
The room was locked, just as it always was when he was away. He was a man who liked order, and wouldn't tolerate his belongings being disturbed by anyone but himself. So, his possessions sat alone, silent and unbothered in the cold room on the second floor of the English home.
Downstairs, the fireplace mantle was decorated with trinkets of the holiday season and lined with stockings of the many children in the household. In the dining room, the long table of polished oak was spread with plates of a great number. Carefully-polished silver rested on napkins of lace, the crystal glasses cleaned to sparkling perfection in order to reflect the chandelier above.
In the grand hall – just as one opened the door to the large townhouse – stood a fur tree. The tree reached heights, extending toward the high ceiling with its entire eight feet, its tiny branches trimmed and adorned with ornaments and ribbons of color.
The Ellington family prided themselves in their preparation for the Christmas season. Everything was perfected down to the smallest detail. Windows and doors were hung with wreaths and the house was liberally decorated with holly and mistletoe. If they'd known of the mice in the house, those mice would have worn slippers. Every year, the decorations were not taken for granted, for this season was a regal occasion. The house accommodated more than a few of the Ellingtons' relatives and their anxious children.
The family was large that dwelt in the house, the Ellingtons themselves having four children, but among the gathered on these holidays were older relatives, not forgetting each of William Ellington's five brothers and their children. And so, on this night, being that Christmas was the next day, the house was filled with no less than thirty adults alone including servants, and that was not counting the happy children who filled the house with excited laughter.
Agatha Ellington supervised the kitchen herself, making sure everything looked perfect and ran on time. She looked over the table, making a mental checklist of the dishes and deserts. Though she couldn't help but worry over it, she knew it would all turn out perfect; it always did.
"It smells wonderful, Mrs. Ellington," said Anne, stepping into the kitchen.
Agatha turned to see the hired nanny in the doorway, wearing a grey dress much plainer that her own, but that did not keep her from accepting the complement graciously. She smiled, quite proud of her work and supervision. Anne was such a pleasant girl.
"Why, thank you, Anne. So sweet of you to say it! It should all be done soon."
Anne smiled sweetly at the lady of the house, though in her mind there was something quite different going on.
"And right on time. Most of the guests are here," Anne informed her. "Your husband is greeting them and Geoffrey is taking their coats."
"Marvelous!" Agatha exclaimed, clasping her hands. "Dinner will be served by half past seven, and then all that will need to be done is…"
The lady of the house lost her words suddenly when a sharp pain gripped her side. She stumbled forward a bit, the pain making her weak. Anne rushed to her side to steady her.
"Are you alright, ma'am?" she asked in concern.
Mrs. Ellington waited for the pain to subside before she was finally able to raise herself back up.
"I wonder…" she said, taking a deep breath. "But don't worry. It's nothing to fret about. I've been having a pain in my side the last couple of weeks. But it's only brief. I'm sure I'm only worried about the holiday, as always this time of year. I'm sure it's nothing serious."
She stopped then, looking at Anne with even more worry in her pale eyes.
"Is Olivia ready? She's dressed and groomed properly?"
Anne chuckled despite herself at the woman's concern. "She is. The girl is not unable to dress herself, ma'am."
Agatha simply nodded, unwilling to admit she didn't know her own daughter well enough to know this fact.
"I worry about her," Agatha said wearily. "I fear that some day I'll become terribly disappointed in her. She keeps herself composed, but perhaps she will embarrass me horribly? I wonder if I made the right choice about what should be done with her."
Anne smiled, stepping back when her mistress was able to stand on her own.
"That's why you have me," she said, trying to be assuring. "I'll tell her to come down now."
"Thank you, dear," Agatha said with a warm smile, but as soon as Anne left, she clenched her side again.
Though Agatha continually dismissed the pain as stress for her daughter and stress for the party, she had lied to everyone about it. Instead of it only being a brief pain, it was only briefly severe. The pain came and went, but the fact of it was that the pain had been rather persistent since this morning. But now was not the time to focus on such things. The family was here.
The warm smells of freshly-baked bread and the aroma of turkey flanked with cranberry drifted through the large house. It floated past the locked room on the second floor and went straight on to the third. On this third floor was a single room, sitting right beside a large attic. The room was kept far from the rest of the family in caution, for inside dwelled a certain Ellington daughter who may as well not have existed to some members of her own blood.
She was called Olivia, a lovely girl who rested at the age of fourteen. She lived most of her days in what would have been isolation were it not for the care of her nursemaid she called 'Nanny Anne'. (Anne would have admitted though, that the title made her feel old.) Olivia had the look of a normal person, as far as people go, but inside her mind she was nothing more than a child.
Her childhood hadn't been filled with nurturing and preparation for adulthood, as most young women. Instead of learning to cross-stitch and care for a husband, she was given whatever she desired. The pride of her life was the army of dolls that lined the shelves of her spacious room. There were all shapes and sizes, all types, with hair that was straight and glistening locks that were in curls, all with different eyes to match.
Among the dolls were various other playthings, toy tops, stuffed bears, and puppets, with and without strings. Olivia had a passion for a beautifully crafted toy. She lived in her own little world of imagination with her dolls, toys, and puppets and was quite content to accommodate any toy that had been orphaned by her cousins or siblings. She was the oldest girl in the family, and they all knew something was not quite right with Olivia Ellington.
Ever since she was a child, she'd been a handful for her parents, saying outlandish things about her surroundings that no one else seemed to understand. She had always seemed to notice things that no one else did – things that weren't really there. The child with the curious eyes had been almost a spectacle to her parents' reputation. She was an obstacle to pass in society. They were constantly forced to cover for her strangeness in public, up until the point that she had become a burden. There was a place for children like her. She was not a common person, nor would she grow to become one. Her abnormalities were aplenty and as time went on, the Ellingtons sought to put her away.
An asylum promised to be their best option, though their choices were few. They'd secured a place for her at Brilington House, an institution that looked to be top-notch for a person of Olivia's state. The girl's things were packed, but coming to her defense was one of William's brothers, the oldest, Liam.
Unmarried, Liam was a toymaker. He lived in the house with his brother and his family except for those months when he traveled. He had quite a name around the country and even beyond the borders of Great Britain, a famous toymaker with the finest of skill. Liam had an attachment to children, which made him adore Olivia's prolonged innocence even more so. He'd taken a liking to the sweet girl, being his oldest niece, and wasn't willing to give her up to someone else's care. He suggested to his brother the option of simply hiring a caretaker for the girl. And so it was done.
A nurse was hired to live in the house by the name of Anne, a lovely girl, who looked as though she might have been an Ellington herself. She was a fair young woman with gold-colored hair and grey eyes. She'd been with Olivia for four years, giving her care where her parents could not, but still no one was as close with the girl as was her uncle. She was his treasure, and he, her only human friend.
Now, the girl sat alone in her room, smelling the food from below but ignoring it entirely for the ballerina in her grasp. The doll had been her favorite for quite sometime, made by Liam especially for her. She'd always admired the doll's poise and dress, thinking it quite magical.
The ballerina's clothes were lovely in design, light pink in color with a grand skirt of gossamer. Her shoes were delicate, the color of her tutu, and were laced about her ankles with lovely ribbons. Around her neck was a choker of lace and atop her perfectly painted head sat a mass of tight, black curls.
Olivia would often pretend to be the ballerina herself, imagining her own corn silk hair to be pulled up tightly with string and flowers. She wished to dress like the lovely ballerina with the porcelain skin, though truly the girl understood it was not meant to be. She was Olivia Ellington, and that she understood. Though none of this kept her mind from wandering.
She sat on her bed with the doll, wearing the party dress of blue that had been chosen for her. And here, she waited. The dinner of Christmas Eve would be prepared soon. After that, gifts would be opened, but most importantly, her uncle Liam would be returning home. Like the other children in the house on this day, she couldn't wait for his arrival.
Olivia heard the footsteps in the hallway outside her room and then the darkness was parted inside. The door was opened to let in the light from the hall and the rather plainly-dressed nurse leaned inside. Somehow though, Anne made the dress look impressive.
"Time to come down, Olivia, dear," said Anne sweetly from the doorway.
Olivia didn't look away from her doll, refusing to divert her attention in the slightest.
"Has uncle arrived yet?" she asked, letting the ballerina twirl in her open palm.
"Not yet," the nurse told her. "But I'm sure it will be soon. Your mother says you should come down now. Everyone wants to see you."
Olivia sighed, seeming a bit bored with the conversation before she carefully laid down her doll.
"I suppose it doesn't count that I don't want to see them," she said bluntly. "But perhaps to humor them is best?"
Anne nodded, giving her approval. Anything that would get the girl downstairs without fuss would be perfectly fine. She'd learned the precise art of dealing with her.
Olivia pulled herself off the bed, standing at quite a reasonable height for a girl of her age, yet she looked down at her shoes as though she had never towered over them so. She stood straight and tall beside the bed, staring down, unmoving for moments. Anne finally stopped at the door, realizing that Olivia had not followed behind her. Sometimes the girl's behavior could be utterly atrocious, but Anne tried to excuse it as often as possible and now mustered a great amount of patience as she waited.
"What's the matter, Olivia?" she asked from the doorframe as she watched the strange girl.
"It's odd," the girl muttered. "It seems my shoes are closer to my face. I feel as though I must have shrunken since this morning. In fact, just yesterday I noticed that my dress drug the floor, when before it hadn't. Anne, do you think it's possible to shrink? Do you think I will shrivel until I no longer am?"
Anne had heard the words coming from Olivia, but just like so many others, she brushed them off. Most of the girl's apprehensions were ridiculous. They were only immediate concerns that were usually never mentioned again. This made them quite easy to dismiss.
"Nonsense," said Anne simply. "Now come! They're waiting."
Olivia smoothed her dress and was content to go downstairs. It was true; the family would be waiting to see her, though she wondered why. All they ever did was complement her dresses, tell her how lovely she had gotten. They would say these things as if by obligation, then move right on to the next relative. Olivia found it quite sad actually. She knew she was different from all of them, but the way she looked at it, she simply saw what no one else seemed to.
She made it to the door and Anne reached over to dim the lamp on the wall.
"No!" protested Olivia quickly, seizing the woman's hand so abruptly that Anne jumped in surprise.
"Whyever not, Olivia?" she asked, refusing to remove her hand from the small, jutting knob beneath the lantern.
"They will be afraid if you turn off the light," she insisted, a bit of fear in her own eyes.
Anne shook her head in confusion, wondering about the girl's conviction. What depths of her mind did she pull this from? Did she actually fathom that there was someone else in the room?
"Who will be afraid?" she asked, unable to hold in her curiosity, but also quite willing to dismiss the answer quickly.
"The dolls," said Olivia with certainty. "They're afraid to be alone in the dark. Leave it on? Just until after dinner?"
Anne consented, though cautiously. Sending a last glance around the room, neglecting to notice that all the dolls seemed to have their eyes turned toward the doorway as if watching the departing pair, Anne pulled the door shut.
After everyone had blessed Olivia with their complements – just as she had expected – the whole family gathered at the dining room table. There were Mr. and Mrs. William Ellington themselves, four of William's brothers and their four wives, two of his brothers' eighteen-year-old sons, William's mother and father – the real Mr. and Mrs. Ellington – a couple of great uncles and living wives, and Olivia, put next to Anne, who was privileged enough to sit at the family table in order to be with the girl. Everywhere the girl went, the nurse was sure to follow. The younger children – all of them under Olivia were younger than ten years – were set by themselves at their own table in the next room with their own nanny.
The dinner began as planned, first with the traditional toast to those gathered. This was followed by pleasant conversation and the slow eating of the meal. None of this pleased Olivia, and she found herself pushing the peas about in her plate to form patterns. She wasn't terribly hungry, her mind's eye still watching the ballerina twirl.
She nearly hypnotized herself by staring down at the uneaten food on her plate until finally she realized that silence had fallen on her ears. She lifted her head, only to find that everyone was looking her way. She looked back at them in a daze as she saw them all sitting – waiting. Olivia then gave her confused gaze to Anne, who smiled back sweetly – though the girl had always wondered how genuine it was.
"Your uncle John has addressed you," her nanny said quietly.
Olivia gave her attention to the mustachioed man across the table. She knew her manners, and she would mind them.
"Sir?" she asked politely. Though John was her blood uncle, to her, Liam was the only one she truly considered family and only he did she address as such.
"William was just saying that you've received letters from Liam," John said, everyone else still looking on the girl. "He says Liam's been in France."
"Yes," Olivia said simply, refusing to speak more about it. Usually when a topic was chosen that she knew about, she wouldn't hesitate to share, yet tonight she fell quiet.
Refusing to press her, yet not wanting to change the subject too far off base for embarrassment's sake, John directed his attention to the handsome young man sitting two chairs down from him at the rectangular table.
"Todd," he addressed, calling attention to his brother, Arthur's, oldest son. "You were in France recently, were you not?"
The brilliant youth with the sparkling blue eyes lifted his head from his plate to engage in the conversation. He was by far the most accomplished of all the younger generation of the Ellington family. His natural charm and handsome face had taken him far, and would take him even further still. He would be rich and well-educated like his ancestors, already preparing for his future while attending Cambridge, at which he was excelling, as was expected.
"Father said I was lacking culture," he said. "He said I needed a break to observe art. I suppose he was right. It did me good to be out in the open air than to be cooped up in the dorm with the stuffy University crowd."
A light round of chuckles passed from the mouths of the family. Todd smiled attractively and turned his gaze toward Olivia with adoration. He'd not been around for a while and regularly the two had been close, but as Olivia gazed at Todd, she was suddenly bored to no extent with the very sight of him. She'd had enough of this family chat, and she'd had enough of this meal.
"Could I be excused to the hall, father?" she asked politely. "I'd like to sit beside the tree."
Her father gave his consent – for there was nothing else to do – and Anne allowed it as well as she kept watch on the girl from her seat in front of the dining room doorway. Olivia looked down at her shoes as she walked, still quite caught up in the idea that she might well be shrinking, but when her eyes fell on the tree, she forgot all else.
She stayed frozen to it for a time, unwilling to look away from the lovely ribbons and bells. The tree gleamed in the light, and soon excitement had taken over the girl's body. She remembered the magic of Christmas and all her distaste for the moments at dinner vanished into nothing. The sight of the tree had always lifted her spirits.
Gathering her skirts, she lowered herself to sit on the floor, peering under the tree at all the beautifully wrapped gifts. There were boxes of all sizes and colors, tied carefully with matching bows. As Olivia looked over them, she couldn't quite forget that there were some missing. Liam hadn't yet arrived. She wished greatly to see his face, just as the other children were awaiting the wonderful toys he would bring them. Surely he would not let them down; he never had before.
Olivia remembered the last story that her uncle told her before he left, for he always told her stories, and she always remembered every one. The last one he spoke to her was about a girl who opened a box that she was not supposed to, and inside were all the dreadful things in the world, released simply because she'd been too curious to control her actions. Olivia remembered this, and since he had left, she'd not wondered once what he'd bring her, remembering that curiosity was bad, but silently hoping he wouldn't bring the gift to her in a box.
She could hear the sound from the children's table as they had finished up their meal, heading towards the tree with excited noises. She also heard the adults beginning to stir. It wouldn't be much longer until they would all be opening presents. The more she thought, the more she longed to see–
Outside the door to her left, she began to hear a gentle scraping on the porch. The girl's face lit up immediately and she pulled herself up, heading to the door in a rush as the sound of the scrapping cane outside became louder and closer. She pulled open the door happily, and there he stood.
Olivia stepped back to let him inside and suddenly all the children were aware of his arrival. He stepped in and onto the wooden floor, his cane thumping along with him. He wore a long brown coat, his white hair hanging to his shoulders, his hat covered with snow. One blind eye was concealed with a patch and he carried a large bag on his back. He looked nothing like a toymaker. In fact, one would think that any child who saw this man would run away, but he had a warm smile and soothing voice, with which he'd won many over. On this Christmas Eve, he appeared before the children like a rather thin and menacing Kriss Kringle, but they welcomed him just the same.
Once he saw Olivia and the other children, his face lit with joy, happy to see them after such a long time. At once they all began speaking, asking questions of him and wanting hugs. The adults had gathered in the hall at the ruckus and Olivia's mother pulled a chair into the floor for him and her Uncle John took the bag from his shoulder. Everyone was happy now; the whole family was here.
Liam sat in the chair, speaking with those who welcomed him, but all this was silent to Olivia's ears. The smile on her face could not be tarnished. He was the most important person in her life, and finally he was back after leaving her alone for quite some time. It seemed like forever, but now all of that was in the past. She shoved it away to be forgotten.
Liam offered hugs to all of the children, finally to smile adoringly at his favorite niece and wrap her in a warm hug.
"I'm so glad you're home, uncle," she said as she hugged his neck tightly.
"As I am glad to be back with you," he said sincerely. "Now," he began, addressing them all. "I do believe I have something for all of you."
The children all smiled happily, sitting on the floor in front of him to wait until they were called. They all wore huge smiles, and Olivia joined them, having no problem with awaiting her turn.
Anne stood near the fireplace, feeling the warmth coming from behind her. She watched Olivia sit down with the other children, thinking that for a moment it was pathetic how the girl had ended up this way. Anne had been with Olivia for just a few years, being brought here when she was only nineteen. In the beginning, the young woman had stayed because she'd cared. She'd become a nurse quite early because she wanted to help these people like Olivia. But as time passed, and the utter insanity of Olivia was shown to her, the more she could look at Olivia as nothing but a burden. She was a useless member of this family and Anne could view her as nothing more than a nuisance.
She watched now as Liam gave out his gifts to the children one by one, all the while thinking it was no wonder that Olivia's parents had given up on trying to raise her themselves.
Almost so suddenly that Anne might have jumped, a voice met her ears. Had the tone been any less smooth, her heart surely would have leapt.
"Do you think the way you treat her is right?" came the low voice.
Anne turned her head to see Todd, who had stepped up without her notice. He stood facing the children, his arms crossed before him, his dark hair silky and perfect. Anne didn't see this young man often, but when he was around, she could hardly think of much else. Oh how lovely it would be to convince him to show a tad bit of interest in her! Then she would finally be part of this family; an addition worthy of taking Olivia's place. To be quite honest with herself, the possibility of marrying into this family or getting a piece in the will was what had kept her around for as long as she'd been there.
Anne said nothing for a few moments, simply staring back at his handsome face that didn't gaze at her. It was as though she didn't even hear his words until moments after he'd said them, but finally she snapped to.
"And how is it that I treat her?" she asked.
"You all treat her like a child," he said simply, a bit smug.
"That's how she wants to be treated," Anne insisted, hoping to move away from the topic and onto something a bit more interesting.
"If you'd treat her like an adult, perhaps she'd act like one," he said. "She's not ignorant. You allow her to be viewed as this."
"There is no hope for her," said the nurse with a tone proving without a doubt that she'd given up on the girl. "The girl is lost to whatever strange demon resides in her mind. That is all. Nothing can be done."
"I refuse to believe it," said Todd, turning his face finally to her.
At his simple piercing stare, her heart began to speed beneath her breast. Clearly though, he didn't want her for conversation or anything else for that matter. He simply would scold her now and she was unable to escape it, yet she would take any attention that he offered.
"You refuse to believe that she is mad?" asked the nurse.
"No," said the student. "I refuse to believe that she is incapable of getting well. She's strange, that's true…" He sent his gaze to Olivia, still sitting on the floor – waiting. "I would prove that there was something different inside her," Todd said thoughtfully. "But you must let her go first."
What? He had asked her to let Olivia go? He had asked her to leave this place? Could he truly care nothing about her, nothing at all? Anne had always known she was an attractive female, overripe and sultry-eyed. Even Mr. Ellington himself had shown his appreciation on several occasions. But Todd didn't even want to look at her. To give Olivia up would be to let go of everything she had here. No! There would be no giving up! She would belong to this family, or else she would perish in her trying.
"I cannot leave her," declared Anne with valiant devotion. "She's not well. I care too much about her to leave."
"You care nothing about her," he insisted, seeing through her. "No one does."
"And you would pretend to!" the nurse accused. "Wanting to take her away for study at your University, no doubt."
Todd fell silent a moment, refusing to look back at her.
"I suppose this is not the time to speak of these things," he decided finally, though no one else in the room appeared to be listening. "Later."
He leaned back against the wall then, setting his sight intently on the gift-giving ahead, just as it appeared to be time for Liam to present Olivia with her gift.
The other children were happy to have received their presents of dolls and soldiers, none looking quite the same, but Liam was most happy to give Olivia her gift.
She came forward, standing in front of him with happiness that could not be ripped away. Her uncle smiled warmly.
"Every year for fourteen years, I've made your gift," he began. "But this year, on my travels, something came across me that I wanted for you. I don't know why I chose it…" he said, trailing off into his thoughts a moment. "But as soon as I saw him, I knew he was for you."
Reaching into the bag, her uncle pulled out a gift wrapped in paper. After being thankful that the gift was not in a box, Olivia proceeded to open it. She opened the paper carefully, until finally she saw the thing that was to be hers, and her eyes lit up.
"Do you like him?" asked Liam hopefully, though he knew she would not refuse him.
In her hand rested the gift. He was tall, cut from rich, brown wood and painted with most precise detail. His face was carefully cut with surprisingly smooth cheeks, a perfect nose, and a stern, attractive mouth. His wooden head was draped in white hair that reached past his chest, almost seeming real. He had no visible eyes, but empty sockets of black that created the illusion of eyes. He was straight and tall, his arms at his sides, but strangely, under his stiff arms were ridges of metal, and as she examined him, she also saw the crests against the sides of his waist.
She lifted one arm out to the side, letting it fall back to hit against the metal ridges of his torso with a cold, iron clank. She'd never seen such a type of toy before, but nevertheless, she was amazed and enthralled by it.
"I've never seen quite an interesting nutcracker," said Liam thoughtfully, almost as if to himself. "His arms are for the cracking, not his teeth. And his face is carved so beautifully – a prince among nutcrackers. He must definitely be rare."
Olivia examined the toy's small mouth, only to find that there were simply a pair of carefully carved lips; no large jaunty teeth like the ones she'd seen her mother with. Those types sometimes haunted her nightmares and she felt guilty for it. He was handsome really, looking quite elegant in his dark blue suit. She loved him immediately.
"He's wonderful," she said in awe as she gazed down at him. She almost forgot to even hug her uncle for the gift!
Liam was glad to see her happy, and since that was done, it was time to open the other presents. Olivia had lost interest, however. She cared nothing about other presents she might have. She would have them tomorrow. She asked Anne to take her to her room, and her request was granted.