The Nutcracker Bleeds
Mary's Little Lamb
Anne would say that the clock's chime was what awoke her, for it was so loud to her ears that she would swear she was inside the workings of the mechanism itself. She was cold. It was dark. And her headache remained. Slowly, she pulled herself off the floor, standing up and trying to remember what had happened before she'd given up consciousness.
She'd heard a noise upstairs – had been looking for Olivia.
Anne peered through the dark, but her eyes were too stubborn to let her focus on anything around her. She couldn't even tell which room she was in now, nor could she remember where she had fallen. She was so very cold…
She rubbed her arms briefly, trying to generate heat, but stopped soon afterward. Her fingers had detected skin where sleeves should have been. Her stomach was bare. She could feel the warmth of her thighs touching together.
She was sure that she hadn't been naked when she'd fainted, but now she was? She'd never lain about completely bare – except of course when William Ellington was in her bed, but that had been quite a while ago! Anne hugged herself tighter, perhaps trying to shield herself from her own confusion.
Slowly, her eyes began to adjust to the darkness, and she realized that there was dim light coming from somewhere – but not where she was.
Four walls surrounded her, and she cautiously reached out and ran her hand across one, the rough texture surprising her fingertips. Those walls were thin, dark. Looking up, she could see that the walls weren't very high, and also, they had no roof. Up above the walls – far above – she could see a spackled ceiling. The view seemed distorted to Anne. Staring upward made her completely dizzy. But there was a flicker of firelight beyond the top of the walls, and that meant that if Anne could get a look over the top, she would be able to better understand her situation.
The young woman moved toward one of the room's corners, hoping to better pull herself up from there, but before she'd taken very few steps, she tripped up on something that was bunched on the floor.
Anne's weight hit the wall and the entire room seemed to shake. Her heart sped, but soon everything was steady again. She directed her eyes toward the small clump that she could now see near her feet. She reached out to grab it, pulling the weightless material near.
Struggling against the darkness, she managed to see what she'd found.
Clothes – terribly-made ones. A small dress that she would guess was a grey-green – near celadon – and was decorated with tiny, simple twists of ivy. There were lace ridges sewn around the collar, sleeves, and hem with the largest thread Anne had ever seen.
She noticed that the dress was much too short for a young woman to wear, seeing that it ran from the neck with long sleeves to just above the knees. Not even bloomers ran that short! Anne was not a shy girl, however, and supposed that she couldn't be very picky at the present time. She hastily pulled it on. The coarse material scratched her skin and it was somewhat snug, but she would have to deal with it.
The clothing making her feel somewhat better about her present situation, she headed once again to the corner.
It took quite a bit of effort, but Anne managed to pull herself over the wall, using her feet to push against both sides of the corner. When she'd reached the top, she hardly got the chance to peer out before she registered that she was falling. The wall was collapsing beneath her weight, and once she'd jumped off, safely back inside, she realized that the entire room was tilting.
Anne fell over onto the wall that was slowly becoming the floor, wincing when she hit. After everything was still and she was certain that she was on firm ground, she crawled out cautiously.
A box, she thought, somehow decently calm. It was like a huge box.
She found herself out on a ledge, the ground was made of wood, and below that cliff she saw something that stole her breath away.
Peering over the edge but not daring to stand up, Anne looked out over the strange valley. The valley looked exactly like Olivia's room.
The bed was there, disheveled in the distance that shouldn't have seemed so great. Far below, she saw all the broken toys littering the ground, but there was something even stranger about that view: the toys were moving.
There were tiny dots of light below, and small, dark shapes gathered up the broken pieces of the dolls and drug them off into the shadows beneath the bed skirt. She could hear the scraping sounds. Anne's eyes drifted to the far side of the room and rested on the fort of books she'd seen there earlier. There was a great amount of light coming from within it. These things compounded her bafflement.
Based on everything she could see, she finally knew where she was. She was atop Olivia's dresser that stood beside the room's door.
"What the devil is going on?" she uttered lowly.
A dream, her mind answered back. This must be some deranged nightmare. Just wake up.
The thought came easily enough, but the action proved to be quite difficult. She closed her eyes and reopened them. She pinched herself. She shook her head ferociously until she was dizzy. Nothing roused her. Anne supposed that, for now, she was stuck in this distortion.
The woman's attention jerked toward the voice that had surprised her, but all she could see across the span of the dresser-top was darkness.
Identify myself? She had to be honest: at that moment, she wasn't sure she even knew. Aside from that, who wanted to know?
A small spark led to a flame that illuminated a pair of figures off to her left. Anne looked over them a moment, partially shielding her eyes from the sudden light. The men who stood watching her were very still, and after a moment of observing them, her mind became convinced that they weren't even real.
Ignore them, Anne, she told herself. This is a dream. If you walk away, they can't see you.
Anne was always good about following her own advice. She turned away from the light and started away; though where she was going, she had no idea.
"You there! Halt!"
She ignored the command.
She heard the hurried footsteps behind her but didn't turn to look.
They'll disappear. Nothing's after me. I'm not even here right now.
Anne felt hands tighten around her arms, pulling her back. She resisted, jerking her arms away, knowing there would be no consequences. Who were these men? They weren't the police, were they? Scotland Yard?
One of those hands gripped her shoulder roughly, and she was forced to look back into a face that she was quite shocked and aghast to see.
She couldn't say that it was a familiar face, but she did recognize it. The face was round and smooth with small, beady eyes. There was slick, black hair beneath a tall, dark hat that had a strap beneath the chin. Rosy cheeks… Thin mouth…
The face was made of wood.
For a few moments, Anne simply stared into that face with wide eyes, but when the small, painted mouth that rested between the rosy cheeks opened and declared quite profoundly: "You're not a toy…", Anne screamed like she never had before.
She struggled against the wooden hands that tried to restrain her, heard the words from their mouths that they shouldn't have been able to utter – though she didn't comprehend them. Instincts took over in her fear, and she fought with all her strength, but still didn't manage to knock either soldier back very efficiently.
A rough slap to her face with the weight of a solid hand made her lose her balance and slide to the floor.
They shoved weapons at her face – wooden guns with sharpened stakes at the end – several times before she even registered that they were there. But when she finally saw them, she forced herself to be calm. Anne knew she wasn't going to get away from these dream soldiers.
"Calm down, trespasser," one said with an annoyed tone, holding his weapon down toward her while the other advanced, carrying what appeared to be a large rubber band.
The soldier pushed Anne over harshly, shoving her face against the ground while the other came forward and bound her with the giant band. It was wrapped around and around her body, holding her arms down and her legs together. It shouldn't have been so strong, but inside it, she couldn't move at all.
"We take her to the Lady, then?" asked one of the patrolmen when they'd harnessed her sufficiently.
The other nodded. Anne heard the creak of his neck.
"Yes, the Lady Sovereign will know what to do with her."
One of those soldiers – the like of which she had once gathered up when they were lifeless on the floor – pulled her up hastily by her bonds, dragging her off further away across the dresser-top. The other soldier marched stiff-legged behind her, and she observed that what she'd originally thought was a torch in his hand was actually a match.
Anne didn't make a sound – no cries of frustration or nervous inquiries. She simply allowed herself to be pulled, trying to find some rational explanation. She'd always prided herself in her sanity…before.
"I have an unidentified captive here!" she heard the toy solider call out behind her head. She had no idea of who he was speaking to, and couldn't get a glimpse. For a moment, he stopped dragging her across the slick surface.
Then she was falling.
She hardly had time to scream before she hit against something soft that gave slightly beneath her weight. Once again, her bonds were gripped and she was jerked off the soft surface and onto the harder wooden floor. The impact jarred her hip slightly.
As she was dragged away, she saw what had happened. She'd been thrown from the top of the dresser. It was only for an unfinished cross-stitch that was still in its round frame that she didn't splatter on the floor. Several soldiers manned the cross-stitch parachute that had caught her, and Anne realized that the needlework was her own.
Angry thoughts about the creation getting ruined crossed her mind, but she didn't voice any of them. Because, it wasn't as if any of this was really happening…
The soldier dragged Anne across the ground floor, and she knew that at any moment she would wake up. While she waited, she observed the oddities around her.
There were several toy soldiers patrolling various spots around the entire perimeter of the room. There appeared to be several different sets; some with red suits and tall, fuzzy hats, others with blue suits and short, flat-topped hats. Each one of them marched stiff-legged with a gun slung over its shoulder – a weapon that was useless if not for the stakes on the ends.
Turning her head, she watched dark-colored dolls without faces and carrying lit matches clean up the mess of broken dolls on the floor. They were completely silent in their work, save for when they dragged bits of porcelain across the floor, scratching. It was a peculiar and terrible service, and even though these were only toys, Anne was disturbed by the sight of it.
The trek across the room was very long because of the soldier's tiny legs that were three inches long at most. It seemed to take hours to pass the bed, and beneath the skirt Anne could see the remains of dead toys peeking out at her. She looked away.
Eventually, they halted once again.
"I have a prisoner to bring before the Lady Sovereign."
Anne attempted to tilt her blonde head to view the one whom the soldier was addressing, but all she found out for certain was that she was nearing greater light, parked in front of the fort of books that was actually frighteningly large. At the top, a clock had been placed. She couldn't read the time. Before she was ready, she was being dragged once again.
She was pulled into the fort. The walls were enormous, framed pictures. There was a red ribbon pinned to the floor through the center of the keep. As she passed, wooden, porcelain, and cloth faces watched her.
She was dragged into a separate chamber. The soldier stood her up, and she was free to look around the room. Within the throne room, there were sprigs from plastic plants lining the walls in front of the paintings. Toy soldiers stood at attention along the way to the throne. In an open area to the side, a ballerina doll was dancing endlessly. A bulky, stuffed bear that was nearly twice Anne's size loomed in the corner near a small chalkboard.
Further down, on a raised pedestal that was comprised of books that made steps, two lovely dolls held long, colorful peacock feathers before the throne, shielding the Sovereign from view.
The soldier that had brought Anne into this makeshift castle walked forward stiffly, stopping a safe distance before the monarch.
"Milady," the soldier addressed, stooping. "We found a girl who we are not sure is on her majesty's side. We bring her to you, trusting you will know what should be done."
Anne watched in bewilderment. Sides? What was that business about?
Before she could think further on it, her bonds were cut, the tight band unwound. Anne was pushed to the floor, forcing her to look reverent before the throne. She raised her head to look on as the Lady was slowly revealed to her. When the feathers were pulled back to expose the sacred ruler, Anne gasped.
Sitting there on that throne – draped in an elaborate dress of blue and white, hair tied back in a ribbon that was much too large and long – was Olivia.
"O-livia?" Anne gasped, but she was promptly hit between the shoulder blades with the butt of a wooden rifle.
"You'll not speak unless spoken too, filth!" a soldier informed her. "And you will refer to the Lady Sovereign accordingly!"
Anne watched the ruler tilt her head down, and when the girl's eyes rested on her, her brow furrowed considerably in annoyance.
"Anne!" she cried. "What are you doing here?"
Anne opened her mouth, but wondered if it was alright to answer the question or not. Would she catch another hit from the rifle? A shame; she was already being trained like a dog in this new world.
"I'm not quite sure," Anne said finally, honestly. "I hoped you knew how we got this way."
"Nothing that isn't unpleasant needs an explanation," the Lady, Olivia, replied. She then added thoughtfully: "Yes, that's a good one. Take that down, Theodore."
The nurse saw toys nodding to each other all around the room. Words to live by from their Lady Sovereign. In the corner, the large bear turned slightly and drew a small '6' on the chalk board with a circle around it. Then he wrote out next to it 'unpleasant: explanations; pleasant: no explanations'. This fell under what appeared to be a list of rules already started by the Lady, including 'No stealing' and 'All allies of the rodents will be executed'. The woman with the grey eyes didn't know what that last one meant.
"Friend or foe, Nanny Anne?" the Lady Sovereign asked.
"What?" she asked, snapping to attention.
"Come, come now. You can be honest. You should man up to your faults instead of skittering away like a weasel."
Again, the toys nodded to one another. Anne saw now that a couple of them were taking personal notes. The blonde woman wanted to shake her head at it all, and in that moment she became quite defiant. She had been dealing with this girl for several years. And Anne was neither man nor weasel.
"Friend, of course," she said reassuringly, knowing it to be the best response.
Olivia's blue eyes widened at the assertion as if her mind could not comprehend it.
"I suppose you have no way of proving this?" she shot.
Anne faltered. All eyes were on her. All the dark buttons and beady, painted eyes. She could hardly concentrate.
"I can be nothing else," she said finally, heatedly. "I don't know what else there is!"
"Liar!" the Lady proclaimed, standing. "You might just as well be a spy!" Olivia shook her head. "You've always thought you could trick me, Anne."
Clever girl. The roles were reversed now and Anne understood the basis of this dream. Olivia had once lived in Anne's world and now Anne was in hers – the Lady Sovereign's kingdom. There were entirely different rules, and Anne had no idea how to defend herself.
Olivia stared at her for several moments. Then when Anne said nothing, she shook her head once again.
"Imprison her," Olivia declared with a sigh, waving her hand dismissively.
"No!" Anne protested loudly, shoving away one of the guns that had been thrust in her direction.
"You would try to prove your loyalty then?" Olivia asked with a taunting smile. "A task?"
Anne didn't respond, clenching her hands that were becoming clammy. She pressed a finger too tightly and the knuckle popped. What would she do? Of course, there seemed only one obvious answer: accepting the task. Still, she hated that she didn't know what she might be getting herself into by this.
When she was silent for too long, the soldiers moved to take hold of her again. She held onto all of her self-restraint in order to keep herself from fighting back this time. The lamp light flickered.
"Let me prove my loyalty!" she cried out. "Give me a task. I'll do whatever you want, Lady Sovereign."
Anne nearly cringed as the words exited her mouth, but since she didn't know what imprisonment would entail, she decided she would rather avoid that than some impossible task.
The Lady Sovereign put a small finger to her delicate lips, tilting her head away from Anne.
"Hmmm…" she considered, and Anne wondered briefly if the girl hadn't already changed her mind. "Though I suppose I can't very well know that you won't just run off and tell the enemy whatever secrets you've uncovered as soon as I release you…"
Anne was very near to losing her temper completely. She opened her mouth to loudly insist that she knew nothing about the "enemy" when a voice rose up behind her.
"Let her be in my charge."
The voice was unpleasant, an English glide that was running across glass shards. It pitched high to low and back again within every few passing syllables.
Anne turned her head and saw a familiar, leering grin set in a white face. A wild suit made of black cloth. Curling shoes on extremely long feet. A hat that fell behind him like dark rabbit ears. Dangling puppet strings. Sinister eyes. Anne gasped.
The jester doll. Now fully as tall as she was.
He wove his way past the soldiers with fluid movement, gripping her shoulders and squeezing them slightly. Anne didn't want him touching her, but was too shocked to protest.
"I shall make sure that she returns from her test and does not veer from me!" he declared. "I will vouch for her character if only it pleases her ladyship."
All of the jester's movements were exaggerated, including the bow and flourish he threw in at the end. Anne stood appalled while Olivia completely ate it up.
The Lady nodded. This proposal seemed satisfactory.
"That will do, Jester," she bade, then directed her attention to the shocked nurse. "Bring me the cat's eye."
"The…what?" Anne asked, hardly hearing because her mind was trying to wrap around the ever growing unpleasantness of her situation.
"That will be all," said the Lady Sovereign. "And fetch for her a pair of shoes, will you? Can't have her running about like that."
Before Anne could speak up, the feathers were lowered back in front of Olivia as a dismissal.
It wasn't long before a female doll hurried in from the side, handing Anne a pair of tall boots made out of black cloth. They were thick, and if nothing else, they would keep her legs warm. She pulled them on.
"Come now, Anne," said the disagreeable tones of the jester puppet. He gripped her shoulder once more and she cringed at his closeness. "The Lady will not wait forever for the task to be completed."
Anne bit her lip and followed the puppet out of the book palace. She was hardly making heads or tails of this and then Olivia had been thrown into the mix. By this, her job – her very life – was threatened. Now, her path was laced with a jester doll that grinned back at her largely with something going on within his mind that she had no way of fathoming.
What was going on? Who could be trusted? Did she even trust herself? Anne sighed dejectedly, wrapping her arms around herself in a reassuring hug. It did little to protect her from the cold.