Prologue

"She's… beautiful," Christopher whispered.

He took a shaky breath and a step back, admiring his handiwork. Lying in front of him on a stilted table was a fair wooden doll. Ten months of diligent carving, of back-breaking labor, and finally he could say he was finished. Christopher could almost cry; he was so relieved. It was as if a great burden had been lifted from his chest. It was as if a terrible sin had been forgiven.

He rolled his shoulders and tilted his head back, closing his eyes. His entire body was tense and throbbing, demanding rest. How long had it been since he last had a good night's rest? He couldn't remember. Day after day, night after night, he had spent his time with the doll. Angeline. He took immense care with his precious work; carving her delicate hands and feet with the nurturing grace of a mother. He had been more than willing to spend long laborious nights sanding her slender legs and abdomen. His mangled hands could recollect every detail of shaping her small breasts and the slight curvature of her back.

But more than anything, he could remember light growing darker and brighter as hours passed, then days, as he perfected her head and face. He had been so determined to make her perfect that he sacrificed the little bit of sanity he had left. So many days without rest habitually left him a complete madman, incapable of separating reality from the deeper, darker recesses of his unconsciousness. Sometimes he would realize he was in some kind of thick daze and that his hands were no longer carving. And much to his surprise, he could hear a voice sobbing a name into the dead darkness of the barn, and would realize that the voice was his own. How long had he been howling? No matter, he was quiet now. But even when he was quiet, the dampness of his cheek would testify to the poor state of his own emotions.

"Angeal," He murmured aloud. But no. Angeal was dead. Now, it was only him. He blanched at the thought of his own emptiness. He had lost all desire to live, and it made him sick. All that was left of him was the aching eating away at his insides. All that remained was the constant longing to feeling Angeal's body against his. The memory of her soft body against the steel of his own was ingrained in his skin. So deeply and painfully ingrained was this memory that, in a moment of particular madness, he had wondered if he could remove his skin completely and end it all. The pain of a blade imbedded in his thigh was dull, but rich enough to remind him that skin removal would not be ideal.

"Angeal," He whispered again, "I am nothing without you."

He stared at the doll, his almost complete Angeline, and then looked at his mangled, bloodied hands and dusty clothes.

"Look at what I have become."

"You have become quite a mess, sir," a voice sang from the barn door. Christopher did not look to see who it was. It was Patty, his maid, of course. Patty was a stocky woman with a large, musical voice to fit the bulk of her stature. Her auburn hair, as usual, was restrained by a tacky blue scarf that Christopher rather hated, but not as much as he hated her unmanageable curly hair. Therefore, he kept his opinion of her scarf to himself. In her meaty hands was a tray of uncovered food. Banana porridge. Christopher could smell it. The aroma of the sweet mush was charging through the air, suffocating the dusty scent of the barn and settling in the yellowing oak shavings around him.

"Go away, Patty," He grunted. He wasn't in the mood for food. He only wanted sleep. Yes, the thought of sleep was almost intoxicating to him. He sank down to the floor and rested himself against the leg of Angeline's table.

"I will not," Patty stated, slighted by the order. "You have not eaten in 15 hours. You have not slept in 35 hours. Who knows when you last bathed? You only spend your time in this barn, and quite honestly, I don't think it's doing you much good, sir. But I-"

She paused, startled.

She had been marching over to Christopher with all of the intention of force feeding him, when she noticed the doll. The body was unbelievably smooth and accurate. It was no wonder Christopher could barely operate a spoon, he had almost sanded the doll into oblivion. And the detail! It was almost as if a real girl were lying on the table. The face was the most startling aspect of the entire masterpiece. The features were startlingly familiar…

"Is this Angeal? What on earth is going on," Patty sputtered, taking a step back.

"No, Patty," Christopher muttered from his spot on the floor. "This is Angeline. Isn't she beautiful? I'm finished with the wood work, mostly."

"Sir, this is absolutely disturbing. I knew you were working on something in here, but this? This is madness. This is too far."

"It's just a doll. You can't understand."

Patty pondered Christopher's words for a moment. He was right, she did not understand. She had never understood the love between him and Angeal, she did not understand Angeal's death, and she certainly did not understand the unlightable darkness where Christopher's mind often was. She did not understand why he spent days at a time in a stupid barn carving a doll that would only remind him of tragedy and loss. But she did understand this: If she was not around to take care of Christopher, he would surely die. Her family had been taking care of the Wimblersons for generations, and one day, her children would take care of Christopher's children the way she took care of him. That was a working bond that she adamantly believed should never be broken.

Patty leaned over and removed the wood chippings from the tangly mass of silky black hair on Christopher's head, looked him in those sad, tired brown eyes, and spoke as gently as she could muster.

"Christopher, I'm going to get you inside, cleaned up, and fed. Then you can go to sleep. After you rest up, you can come back and work on your… Angeline."

Christopher did not look particularly happy about Patty's decision to move him, but he did not fight her as she pulled him to his feet and dragged him out of the barn.