I've always felt ugly and pieced together, some revolting doll stitched together with spare parts. The parts I'm made of have seen even less love than myself-- abused and ripped and torn, sprouting wounds of yellowed stuffing. I've always felt like that hideous doll shoved onto a far back shelf in some antique store, forgotten about, dust snowing down over the years of neglect. Patiently waiting to be discovered or rot.

Ever since I was a child, I refused to play with new toys; I was a nuisance to my parents, forcing them into back alley shops filled with the elderly and ancient toys of lost children. They'd fork over the money for some smelly stuffed animal or decrepit board game, all the time shooting their darling little daughter odd looks. And even though I am four feet and some inches taller than back then, nothing has changed except the people around me.

"Ooh, look! An antique shop!" I cry out, pointing, the single plastic bag hung on my arm dwarfed by the volumes of shopping bags creasing my friends'.

There's a handful of grumbles, two pairs of rolling eyes. The entire atmosphere reeks of Here she goes again.

Julia checks her watch, squinting to see it through the thick jungle of ropes on her arms. I'm surprised she can lift her arm, considering how much clothes she has bought. "Fee, it's four-thirty. You know Kristin and I have to get going, we've got that sorority thing tonight. We're taking the train back-- you drove, right? Maybe we can hang out some more tomorrow."

I recognize the response for what it really means. We're ditching you. But I don't care, my body already gravitating to the entrance of the store. I might have called something suitable over my shoulder. Who knows? My mind is years back, ten years old all over again, skipping happily into the must and mystery of the shop. It's calling my name, beckoning, the mere scent of history in the entrance enticing.

The inside is high-ceilinged and dimly lit, but because the windows are thrown open the soft yellow light clashes with the harsh blue city hues, throwing things into shadow and highlight in an unnatural fashion. In the far left corner I glimpse a short counter and cash register, but most of it is blocked by a couple bookcases and shelves that separate the front and back of the store like a wall. The register is abandoned, and for some reason this makes me uneasy. Why would someone just walk away from their store? Anyone could waltz in and steal whatever they wanted.

"Phoebe."

I jump, startled, twisting around to the closed door at my back. No one. Slowly, cautious, I made my way around the bookcase, taking the right side of the two paths leading to the back. Glancing around, over, and through the piles and stacks of antiques, I found no one. Nothing. Then who said my name?

Unlike all the girls in the horror films, I didn't call out, didn't ask "hello, is anyone here?" If they were and they wanted me to see them, then they would show up. I could deal with the fact that they didn't want to be seen. It did freak me out that whoever it was knew my name, but I set that aside for the moment.

And then I saw her.

She had ratty brown-black hair in two braids, marked and threadbare skin a sickly color. Her eyes were no more than two shoddily sewn buttons, one black and one yellow. The dust covered her so thickly, especially on her lap, that the color of her dress was unidentifiable and her feet were bare. The doll looked to be made of many different parts, her complexion inconsistent and everything about her noticeably patched together. No texture seemed the same, velvet and sand paper and silk all right next to each other, hiding and giggling under the covers of must.

My kindred spirit was calling to me from our dark, neglected shelf.